NICOSIA (Reuters)–Greek Cypriots have voted overwhelmingly to kill a UN-backed plan that would have ended 30 years of partition and usher a united Cyprus into the European Union.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–whose government had braved the skepticism of a powerful hard-line establishment and military to steer the Turkish north to a "yes" vote–said Greek Cypriot rejection on Sunday meant partition was now "permanent."
But Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos–who led the opposition to the plan–urged Turkish Cypriots not to abandon efforts to reunite the island within the EU. "Our road will not be paved with roses…but we will not be deterred," he said.
Turkish Cyprus–in a simultaneous vote–approved the plan for a loose association of two largely autonomous zones. But the Greek Cypriot "no" effectively slammed the EU gates on the poorer north and meant only Greek Cyprus will accede in May.
Greek Cyprus however may now be received with some rancor. It was a result the EU–the United States–and the United Nations had urgently sought to avoid. The long-festering Cyprus problem–which has brought NATO partners Turkey and Greece to the verge of war on two occasions–will now be "imported" into the EU with all attendant complexities and emotions.
Washington expressed disappointment. "We commend all those who voted to approve the plan–particularly a large majority of Turkish Cypriots–for their courage and their vote for peace and reconciliation," a State Department spokesman’said.
Thousands gathered at a square in the northern–Turkish half of Nicosia to celebrate their ‘yes’ vote–waving flags–singing and calling for the resignation of Rauf Denktash–the hard-line Turkish Cypriot president who rejected the deal.
Cypriots on both sides beeped their car horns–the one in celebration of a ‘yes’ the other lauding a ‘no.’ The mood on the Greek side was more subdued with streets and cafes almost empty.
Official results showed Greek Cypriots voted 75.8 percent against the UN plan condemned by their own government.
Many believe the deal–though it would have allowed over 100,000 to return to homes under Greek Cypriot administration–did not cede them enough territory.
Some objected to 19-year limits on Greek Cypriot rights to settle and buy property in the Turkish north. Turkish Cypriots had sought such exemptions to EU law on freedom of movement to ease fears they might be "swamped" by wealthier Greek Cypriots or–the old Turkish nightmare–be driven from the island.
Many simply gamble they can get better terms when they are firmly established in the EU.
The EU executive said in a statement a "unique opportunity" had been missed.
The United Nations announced its peace efforts were at an end and it was pulling its envoy out of the island. TURKISH CALL FOR END TO SANCTIONS
Official results showed Turkish Cypriots–comprising less than 200,000 of the island’s 800,000 people and populating a third of its territory–voted 65 percent for the unity plan.
Gul said the north–which is recognized only by Ankara and enjoys a per capita income a third of that enjoyed by the south–must be freed of crippling trade sanctions.
Such a move would be a tremendous blow to Greek Cyprus. Greek Cypriot financial analysts said the prospect of political isolation for Greek Cypriots–coupled with a possible easing of trade blockades on Turkish Cypriots–damaged Cyprus’s economic outlook.
"If I put value on commen’s by the UN and European politicians–what lies ahead for the political and economic future of Cyprus will be negative," said Stavros Agrotis of CISCO brokerage.
Washington has said it would not "leave the Turkish Cypriots out in the cold" if they approved they plan.
Turkey’s center-right government had hoped reunification would boost its chances of winning a date for Turkish EU entry talks later this year; critical to luring foreign investment.
Reunification hopes fade. But the government has won some goodwill in casting aside past Turkish intransigence over Cyprus and taking the courageous step of publicly defying Denktash–a figure with strong allies in the military.
Cyprus was wracked by ethnic violence in the 1960s and split by a 1974 Turkish invasion after militant Greek Cypriots mounted a coup aimed at union with Greece. Emotions rooted in that brief war–which drove hundreds of thousands from their homes–run high on both sides of the island.