Rabble-rousing minister defends Cyprus killing

Divided island: Ankara accuses Greek Church
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The Independent Online
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Tansu Ciller, yesterday voiced approval of a fatal attack on a Greek Cypriot protester in an inflammatory speech that showed once again how tangled the tensions on the divided Mediterranean island have become.

When she arrived for a brief visit to Cyprus, Ms Ciller, who is also deputy prime minister, called for renewed peace talks. But just before her departure she had whipped up a crowd on the mainland with a rabble- rousing speech.

"Nobody touches our flag. It's as simple as that. Whoever dares to do so, we will break their hands," Ms Ciller shouted, before taking the same 40-mile route used by the Turkish expeditionary force that in 1974 carved out a canton, now a breakaway state, for the Turkish minority on the island.

Such words complicate the work of diplomats struggling to re-establish calm after two ill-judged Greek Cypriot civilian marches on the front lines in the past week. The marches resulted in the beating to death of one demonstrator on Sunday, and another was shot dead on Wednesday as he tried to scale a front line pole to tear down the Turkish flag.

"When people are provoked, and excited, it is not hard to work out what will happen," said Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, blaming the Greek side. "This is a provocation, but it will not remove the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."

Some parts of the Turkish media played up stories that showed how Turks and Greeks could co-operate. One newspaper even printed a picture of a man described as a "Turkish Cypriot security official" levelling his pistol at the doomed Greek Cypriot as he started his climb up the Turkish flagpole.

Indeed, the conservative Ms Ciller's speech in defence of the shooting probably had less to do with war-mongering than her need to re-establish herself as an important player on the Turkish political scene.

She has recently been overshadowed by her coalition partner, Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. He was not well-positioned to compete on his favourite topic of Cyprus yesterday, since he is on a tour of Asian countries to polish his pro-Islamic image.

In Ankara, the foreign ministry summoned diplomats from countries represented on the United Nations Security Council to accuse the Greek Orthodox Church of financing the original Greek Cypriot "bikers' rally"on Sunday that started the latest round of trouble.

Many of the Greek Cypriots involved in this week's violence were refugees from the 1974 invasion who hijacked the motorcyclists' rally to vent their frustration at the 22-year stalemate. "We didn't plan anything like this," said the bikers' leader, George Hadjicostas.

At the last minute, bowing to pressure from the Cyprus government, he had called off an attempt by thousands of bikers to burst across the UN buffer zone into Turkish-controlled territory. But with the engines roaring and the world's cameras in place, it was too late.

Hundreds of unarmed young Greek Cypriots were determined to draw attention to Cyprus's division by squaring up to Turkish and Turkish Cypriot troops on the "Attila Line". They were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators on the Turkish side, and during a pitched battle a 24-year-old Greek Cypriot, Tassos Isaac, was battered to death.

There have been Greek Cypriot protests in the past, but few so violent. In the 1980s, women braved the ceasefire lines, until a rough encounter in 1989 when Turkish Cypriot riot police made more than 100 arrests.