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Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Sunday, 25 April 2004 11:56 UK

Analysis: Turkey's Cyprus gamble


By Jonny Dymond
BBC Istanbul correspondent

Senior Turkish politicians have expressed disappointment at the result of the reunification referendum on the island of Cyprus, which was defeated by a large margin in the Greek Cypriot south.

A man passes in front of giant Turkish flag while he holds a flag of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Turkey is alone in recognising the Turkish Cypriot north
Turkish Cypriots, whose claim to statehood is recognised only by Turkey, voted in favour of reunification.

For many years the division of Cyprus has been a major obstacle on Turkey's path to European Union membership, so where does this vote leave Turkey's EU aspirations?

Turkey's governing Justice and Development (AK) Party took a big risk in pressing for a compromise deal in Cyprus.

Grudging acceptance

Many in the powerful military and bureaucracy wanted no part of a resolution which involved yielding territory to Greek Cyprus.

Cyprus

Turkey's military issued a grudging public acceptance of the UN's involvement but then, through various channels, allowed it to be known that it thought the government had yielded too much.

But it was clear that something had to give over Cyprus if Turkey was to remove a major obstacle on its path to EU membership.

The defeat of the referendum and the end of the reunification plan might make it seem as if the Turkish government's efforts have been in vain, but in fact it looks like the very opposite is true.

Gamble

There is widespread international acknowledgement of the change in the Turkish government's approach and the delicacy of its domestic political position.

"We did everything we could," said Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

The diplomatic community in Turkey knows that is pretty much the case and the clear-cut majority the reunification plan gained in the Turkish Cypriot north is testament to Turkey's changed attitude.

Market in northern Nicosia
The result means no EU benefits for Turkish Cypriots
Serious problems remain though. Turkey is still the only country in the world that recognises the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Forty thousand Turkish troops are stationed there and they will be technically in occupation of EU territory when the south of the island joins the EU on 1 May.

But it seems clear that the international attitude towards Northern Cyprus will change.

The Turkish government's gamble appears to have paid off - and opponents of its membership of the EU will now have to find objections other than Turkey's relationship with the Cypriot north.



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