New Cyprus: one flag, two leaders, lots of holidays

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The Independent Online

United Nations diplomats in Switzerland are on the point of giving birth to the European Union's strangest country after marathon talks aimed at resolving the future of Cyprus received the backing yesterday of all four sides - Greece, Turkey and the two Cypriot communities.

United Nations diplomats in Switzerland are on the point of giving birth to the European Union's strangest country after marathon talks aimed at resolving the future of Cyprus received the backing yesterday of all four sides - Greece, Turkey and the two Cypriot communities.

After three decades of religious division, the first impressions of the country that might emerge are strange to say the least. After the longest peacekeeping mission in UN history, diplomats admit that the proposed solution is more reminiscent of Bosnia than the EU.

Cypriots will be in the enviable position of having more national holidays than their EU partners. Turkish Cypriots will have to get used to taking time off for Christmas and Orthodox Easter, while Christian Greeks will celebrate the birthday of the prophet Mohamed.

First among the trimmings of the past likely to go is the flag. At present Turkish Cypriots live with an inverted version of the Turkish colours with a red crescent on a white background. Until now, the Greek-Cypriots have shied away from the blue of their mother country in favour of a clumsy yellow map of the island fringed with an olive branch.

United Cyprus would live under one flag with three horizontal stripes - a blue one to represent the Greeks, a red one the Turks and a copper coloured one in the middle inspired by the united island whose name was derived from the Phoenician for copper.

There have been protests from some quarters over which colour will sit on top of the rusty middle band. Like everything else connected to the new Cyprus, the flag was decided on by committee after lengthy meetings and hundreds of proposals from all over the world. There will be no proud Cypriots singing the national anthem at the Athens Olympics this summer because the tune - selected by the same means as the flag - has no accompanying words to avoid language problems.

The UN blueprint reveals as much about the two communities' desire to stay apart as it does to reunite. A united Cyprus would bring two leaders to an EU summit of heads of state. There will be a president and a vice-president, one from the Turkish community and one the Greek, with the roles reversed every 20 months.

Cypriots on both sides of the UN-patrolled buffer zone are set to vote on the revised reunification plan on 21 April in time to allow the island to enter the EU as a single country.

The plan they must decide on calls for a single state with a looser than loose federation of two autonomous communities. The irony is that the expansion of the EU, which has done so much to bring the rivals to the negotiating table, is creating a state that contravenes its own laws on freedom of movement and property rights.

The most controversial point for EU law makers and Cypriots alike is the restriction of the right of return for refugees who lost their homes in the fighting in 1974. In some cases refugees will be allowed to reclaim their homes but only on the agreement that they spend no more than two nights a week in them.

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