Turkey warns over Cyprus EU role


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The Independent Online

Turkey will not attend any event presided over by Cyprus when the divided nation assumes the European Union presidency in July, the country's foreign minister said.

Turkey does not recognise Cyprus as a sovereign nation and opposes it taking over the EU presidency until a solution to the dispute is found.

The island was split into an internationally recognised Greek-speaking south and a breakaway Turkish-speaking north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Only the Greek section is part of the EU.

"EU-Turkey relations and the political contacts we are currently establishing will continue as they are," Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a joint news conference with EU foreign policy chief Baroness (Catherine) Ashton and enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule.

"Yet no ministry or organisation of the Turkish Republic will take part in any activity that will be presided by Southern Cyprus."

Eight policy issues have been frozen by the bloc over Turkey's refusal to allow ships and planes from Cyprus enter its ports and airspace.

Turkey, however, is showing renewed interest in reviving its stalled bid to join the European Union, now that one of its key opponents - Nicolas Sarkozy - is no longer the president of France.

Turkey began its EU accession negotiations in 2005 but made little progress in its candidacy, thanks to its dispute with Cyprus and opposition from Mr Sarkozy to Turkey's membership.

Mr Sarkozy argued that the predominantly Muslim country is not part of Europe and wanted Turkey to accept some kind of a special partnership with the EU instead of full membership - an offer Turkey rejected.

Now that Socialist Francois Hollande has replaced the conservative Mr Sarkozy, Turkey hopes France will be more sympathetic to the candidacy of a country that has one of the world's fastest growing economies and is becoming a regional diplomatic player.

"Turkey will determinedly progress in its course towards the EU," Egemen Bagis, the Turkish minister in charge of EU affairs, said yesterday.

Baroness Ashton, meanwhile, thanked Turkey for sheltering nearly 27,000 Syrian refugees who fled violence in neighbouring Syria where forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are waging a crackdown on an uprising.

"First of all - our thought every day with the people of Syria," she said. "We are horrified by the violence and determined to work together in support of solutions."