Court's Cyprus verdict stuns Turkey

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In a judgment with potentially far-reaching implications for the Cyprus dispute, the European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Turkey had violated the rights of a Greek Cypriot who lost access to her property after the 1974 Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus.

It was the first time an international court had held Turkey responsible for the consequences of its invasion, which displaced at least 160,000 Greek Cypriots.

"It is a great success. I believe its effects could be enormous," said President Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot who heads the internationally recognised state of Cyprus.

The Strasbourg-based court, an arm of the 40-nation Council of Europe, issued its judgment at a time when the United States and Britain and its European Union allies are intensifying efforts to make 1997 the year of a settlement of the island dispute. There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, but the prospect of a wave of legal claims may stiffen the resolve of the Turkish government and its Turkish Cypriot allies to maintain a hard negotiating stance.

Since the Turkish invasion, Cyprus has become an island of two ethnically pure sectors. Much Greek property in the north has ended up in the hands of Turkish Cypriots or settlers from the Turkish mainland.

The court ruled by 11 votes to six that Turkey had violated the rights of Titina Loizidou, a tourist guide, by denying her access to plots of land she owned in the northern coastal resort of Kyrenia. She launched her case after being detained by Turkish Cypriot police in 1989 as she entered the Turkish-controlled sector of Nicosia.

One vital element of the court's judgment was that Turkey, rather than the self-proclaimed "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", was responsible for what happened to Ms Loizidou. Turkey, which keeps 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus, argued that it could not be responsible since the events took place outside Turkey. Judgment on Ms Loizidou's compensation claim was deferred.