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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Profile: Rauf Denktash
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

Rauf Denktash
Happy snapper: Rauf Denktash is a keen photographer
Elections in northern Cyprus on Sunday will see the retirement of one of the world's longest-serving political leaders.

Rauf Denktash, whose intransigence and refusal to compromise have been blamed for scuppering countless initiatives to solve the Cyprus problem, is finally standing down after more than half a century in politics.

Mr Denktash has long been a familiar hate figure amongst Greek Cypriots, but more recently he has been criticised by his own Turkish Cypriot community for his inflexibility and what many see as a failure to modernise or adapt to changing circumstances.

Journalists encountering Mr Denktash for the first time frequently complained that they had to listen to a lecture on the island's political history before business could begin.

Snapper

But the veteran politician has experienced most of the defining moments in modern Cypriot history at first hand - experiences which have inevitably shaped his policies on Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relations.

Mr Denktash became president of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983. But he began representing the Turkish Cypriot community as long ago as 1947, during British colonial rule, when he was elected to a consultative committee examining the prospects for independence.

Rauf Denktash
They will never ever understand that they cannot just walk all over us
Rauf Denktash

The presidential office - situated in the former residence of the British district commissioner for Nicosia - is a noisy one. Mr Denktash is surrounded by dozens of caged song birds, whose chirps and trills punctuate meetings with visiting dignitaries.

"They help me to relax," he says, swivelling his ample frame round to face the cages on either side of his desk.

Aside from the surprise at finding a miniature aviary in the president's office, visitors are often disconcerted to find themselves being enthusiastically photographed by the Turkish Cypriot leader.

He is a keen amateur photographer and even took his camera into recent UN-sponsored negotiations on the island's future.

Relishing the prospect of free time to indulge his hobbies, Mr Denktash is happy to reminisce about life on the island during the colonial period.

Assassination bid

After training as a barrister in London he returned to Cyprus to practise law. As acting solicitor-general during the armed Greek Cypriot struggle against British rule in the 1950s he successfully prosecuted several Eoka fighters who were subsequently hanged.

"At the beginning we thought it was just criminal activity that could be curbed," he says. "It was only later we realised Greece was behind it."

View of the Greek Cypriot sector of the Turkish-occupied town of Famagusta
Divided Famagusta: Mr Denktash opposed the reunification plan
The outgoing president points a chubby index finger at a copy of a Cypriot newspaper from 1956 reporting an abortive attempt by Eoka on the life of the British governor, John Harding. A bomb placed under his bed failed to explode.

"It was obvious to us all that the lad never meant the bomb to go off," says Mr Denktash, immediately immersed in the events of 50 years ago. "He must have tampered with the time switch."

But while professional relations with the colonial administrators were cordial, even a successful London-trained barrister like Rauf Denktash had little social contact with the British.

"They had their own clubs, their own golf course," he remembers. "We just didn't mix, we were never invited to their houses."

When Britain withdrew from Cyprus in 1960 it left the new country with one of the most complicated constitutions in the world, designed to ensure a balance between the two communities.

Mr Denktash remembers considerable unease within the British administration over the nature of the power-sharing formula.

"As Hugh Foot, the outgoing governor was leaving, he said 'You Turkish Cypriots have got a lot out of this, I just hope it works.'"

Chance lost

Subsequent events showed that these apprehensions were justified.

Mr Denktash believes he can pinpoint a key moment when the chance for inter-communal harmony was lost.

He says the new head of state, Archbishop Makarios, could easily have achieved his aim of enosis, or union with Greece, after independence if he had been more generous in his treatment of the Turkish Cypriot minority.

"If he had promoted Turkish Cypriots instead of trying to exclude them, and then all of a sudden called a referendum on enosis he would have won it easily," he says.

"Makarios would have taken us by surprise and we wouldn't have known what he was doing."

As he prepares to leave office Mr Denktash remains as pugnacious as ever. He is determined to oppose Turkish Cypriot moves towards reunification "by those who would bargain off our independence."

His views of the Greek Cypriot community have certainly not mellowed over the years either.

"They will never ever understand that they cannot just walk all over us," he says.




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