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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Veteran Cyprus warrior faces final fight
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC, Nicosia

Rauf Denktash
The Turkish Cypriot leader said he will resign if his people vote 'yes'
Rauf Denktash may be about to see his lifelong ambition fulfilled.

The octogenarian Turkish Cypriot leader has devoted his political career to creating a separate state for his people in Northern Cyprus.

The irony is that the new state would be delivered courtesy of the Greek Cypriots.

And in the process Mr Denktash's own leadership could come to an end.

On 24 April, Greek and Turkish Cypriots will vote on whether or not to accept the UN's latest plan for the reunification of their island.

The indications are that the Greek Cypriots will vote against it, thus consolidating the island's partition.

Seven decades in public eye
1924: Born in Cyprus
1944-1947: Studied law in the UK
1948: Consultative Council member under British rule
1950s: Prominent lawyer, founder of paramilitary group
Since 1968: Chief Turkish Cypriot negotiator in UN talks
Since 1976: President of Turkish Cypriots
Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, seem likely to ignore the advice of Mr Denktash and vote in favour of a deal.

If that happens, Mr Denktash has said he will resign.

It would be the end of a career in politics that has spanned no less than seven decades.

Back in 1948, when Cyprus was a British colony, the young Rauf Denktash - a newly-qualified barrister from Lincoln's Inn in London - was a member of the island's short-lived Consultative Council.

Since then he has never been out of the public eye.

During the 1950s, when Greek Cypriots took up arms against the British in the Eoka campaign for independence, Mr Denktash was a prominent prosecution lawyer.

Paramilitary leader

His courtroom adversary - more often than not - was Glafcos Clerides, later to become president of the Cyprus Republic.

The two men have known each other since childhood. They went on to re-enact their courtroom sparring across successive negotiating tables during lengthy but fruitless discussions on re-uniting Cyprus.

As a young boy, one of Rauf Denktash's ambitions was to become a vet, or failing that, a pilot.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves while parading with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, left, during ceremonies in November marking the 20th anniversary of the breakaway TRNC
Denktash can no longer count on Turkey's unconditional support
In the event he followed his father's path into law, and then into politics.

In the 1950s, when the Eoka campaign was at its height, Mr Denktash founded TMT - a Turkish Cypriot paramilitary organisation committed to partitioning Cyprus and consolidating ties with Turkey.

In the process he established strong personal links with the Turkish "motherland" which were to underpin his entire political career.

Since the political upheaval of the early 1960s, when violence broke out between the island's two communities, Rauf Denktash has been a permanent fixture of Turkish Cypriot public life.

Stubborn

His political stature amongst the Turkish Cypriot community was enhanced in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the North of the island in response to a Greek-backed military coup.

The island was effectively partitioned. In 1983, Mr Denktash unilaterally announced the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Until recently, many Turkish Cypriots who feared a return to inter-communal violence found his presence reassuring.

His stubbornness and indifference to international criticism, combined with his substantial rotund physique to create a popular image of an avuncular father of the people.

He was around when my mother was a child, and when I was a child. The other day, my daughter... asked if he will still be president when her children are born
Turkish Cypriot unification supporter
But increasing numbers of Turkish Cypriots believe he is out of step with the times - particularly those born after 1974, with no memory of the inter-communal clashes of the 50s and 60s.

"He was around when my mother was a child, and when I was a child," said one unification supporter.

"The other day, my daughter who is now 16, asked if he will still be president when her children are born. It seems as if he will never go away."

But more damaging to Mr Denktash's political future is that he now finds himself publicly at odds with the Turkish leadership, which is keen to see Cyprus reunited in order to advance its own bid for EU membership.

Generals cautious

The veteran politician continues to enjoy considerable popular support in Turkey, particularly in Anatolia.

But his enduring alliance with the powerful Turkish military, which until now has been crucial to his continuing political survival, is less secure.

For the moment, at least the balance of power on Turkey's secretive National Security Council appears to favour those generals who cautiously support Turkey's progress towards EU membership.

While the army's public support for Mr Denktash remains undiminished, its emerging pro-European policy is clearly at odds with his nationalist stance and his refusal to accept the UN's plan for re-unification.

If, as seems likely, Greek Cypriots vote against the UN deal and Turkish Cypriots vote in favour, Mr Denktash may yet see his unrecognised state gradually accepted by the international community.

But if his own implacable opposition to reunification costs him both popular support and the backing of the Turkish state, the veteran leader could well find that his political career is finally at an end.


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