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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 19:24 GMT
Cyprus leaders start intensive talks
Turkish Cypriots demonstrate in favour of the UN plan
Support for the plan is growing among Turkish Cypriots
Leaders of Turkish and Greek Cyprus have begun an intensive series of talks in an attempt to agree a United Nations reunification plan.

I think Mr Denktash's days are numbered

Greek Cypriot foreign minister
The two sides have until 28 February to decide whether to accept the UN plan, which would ensure a reunited Cyprus joined the European Union in May 2004.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has threatened to stand down as leader rather than sign the plan in its present form.

Map of Cyprus
But Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides on Monday said Mr Denktash was a "man of the past".

"I think Mr Denktash's days are numbered," he said. "His resignation is quite a possibility that we cannot exclude."

Mr Denktash on Sunday said he had reservations about the constitutional structure of the proposed new state. He also said there was not enough trust between the two communities for them to live together again.

Only the Greek Cypriot side will join the EU if the island is not reunited by the deadline.

Referendum

The Turkish Cypriot leader and Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides have agreed to meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 1400 and 1630 GMT. The first meeting took place at the UN compound in the divided capital Nicosia.

Rauf Denktash
Mr Denktash has threatened to stand down
Earlier, UN envoy Alvaro de Soto said after separate talks with Mr Clerides that he was optimistic a deal could be reached.

"The [UN] secretary general in the last two or three years has devoted more effort and resources on Cyprus than ever before, because we saw an opportunity," he said.

"It is not clear that opportunity will remain."

Mr Denktash has said he will call for a referendum if he is put under too much pressure, and step down from negotiations if it goes against him.

Army backing

Mr Denktash, 78, resumed talks with Mr Clerides last week, after tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots demonstrated in favour of the UN deal.

But despite a growing mood against him, Mr Denktash is aware he still has the backing of the Turkish army, says the BBC correspondent in Cyprus, Tabitha Morgan.

The Turkish military's support will significantly reduce the impact of any domestic dissent, our correspondent says.

Cyprus has been partitioned along ethnic lines since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Turkey maintains 40,000 troops on the island, and is the only country to recognise Turkish-held northern Cyprus as a separate state.


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02 Jan 03 | Europe
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