Greece and Cyprus yesterday reiterated their commitment to efforts aiming at resolving the 21-year-old Cyprus problem. "Both sides agreed to continue co-operation until a just solution to the Cyprus problem is found," said a joint Greek-Cyprus communiqui.
"The Cyprus problem is the national issue... It is a problem of invasion and continued (military) occupation that creates conditions of instability and insecurity in the region." The statement was issued after talks between Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and members of the Cyprus National Council (KES), the island's top advisory body on the Cyprus issue.
It is the first visit by the KES to Athens since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the Mediterranean island. Cyprus has been split for 21 years and United Nations mediation efforts to re-unite the island have failed.
The joint communiqui said Athens and Nicosia backed the good offices mission of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and agreed to press ahead with plans of the KES to bring the Cyprus issue before the UN General Assembly.
The statement also added that "co-ordination and close co-operation between the governments of Greece and Cyprus should continue" in a bid to finalise the Mediterranean island's entry to the 15-member European Union. EU states in March agreed to open Cyprus' membership talks within six months of concluding a 1996 intergovernmental conference on institutional reform.
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said after his meetings with Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and the island republic's National Council that it was a very important day and a turning point for Hellenism, adding that the unanimity reached was a factor of great importance. Mr. Clerides said yesterday's agreement sent a message to all the adversaries of Hellenism that it was united in struggling for a just solution to the Cyprus issue.
Mr. Papandreou said the negative point was the continuous lack of conciliation on the part of Turkey which did not back down on any point. He said total coincidence of views was attained at the meeting on necessary future moves, saying rarely had he see n such unanimity. He conceded, however, that every party leader had his own views but stressed that minimum planning was achieved.
President Clerides said two important events had taken place in the meantime: Cyprus' course towards Europe (he thanked the Greek government in this context) and the unified defence zone between Greece and Cyprus. He reiterated that the resumption of dialogue without preconditions would be doomed to failure and called on the US and the European Union to exercise their influence on Turkey.
President Clerides also reiterated that preconditions were the unified sovereignty of the Cypriot state, the definition of the term political equality, the issue of demilitarisation, the extent of the two cantons and future guarantees. He said Turkey created impressions on many an occasion but without these impressions living up to its substantive intentions.
Replying to a questioner on whether a pan-hellenic meeting would take place in the future with the participation of Greek political parties, Mr. Papandreou said that parties in Greece had not reached agreement on all detailed issues and stressed that every Greek government played a positive role on the prime national issue which was the Cyprus issue.
Mr. Clerides yesterday also received main opposition New Democracy leader Miltiades Evert with whom he discussed the course of the Cyprus problem.
"The Cyprus problem is the leading national issue, which, upon being resolved, will lead to the solution of many other national issues which are being faced," Mr. Evert said. Mr. Evert also said that during his upcoming visit to the US he will be promoting the Greek position at all levels.
Political Spring party leader Antonis Samaras also met yesterday with Mr. Clerides. Following the meeting, also attended by Cyprus Foreign Minister Alecos Michaelides and former president Spyros Kyprianou, Mr. Samaras reiterated his party's standing demand that a pan-hellenic conference be held with the participation of all the political parties from Greece and Cyprus. Mr. Samaras underlined that the issue of the common defence doctrine and the Cyprus' accession into the European Union should be the two leading points for dealing with the Cyprus problem.
Mr. Clerides held successive meetings with Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary-General Aleka Papariga and Coalition of the Left and Progress leader Nikos Constantopoulos yesterday evening.
Ms Papariga stated afterwards that she did not share Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's optimism concerning developments in the Cyprus issue, and particularly the role and contribution of the Greek government. She warned that the process of dialogue for Cypriot entry into the EU would be combined with the official partition of the island.
In an announcement after the meeting between the prime minister and the KES, the KKE said that the "big words" by the Greek government cannot conceal the fact that Cyprus is currently going through a phase where the country is very close to partition. "The European Union and the US want Cyprus partitioned and to be incorporated into Nato's structure and that of the Western European Union, so that it (Cyprus) may be used as a base of operations for the promotion of their offensive plans in the region," the announcement said.
After his meeting with Mr. Clerides, Mr. Constantopoulos urged that the Cyprus problem be maintained as an international problem of invasion and occupation, and warned against it being entangled as part of Greek-Turkish differences.
The Foreign Ministry yesterday strongly criticised the provocative behaviour of Turkish minister of state and government spokesman Yildirim Aktuna during his three-day tour of Thrace, saying he had failed to observe the norms of international relations an d that his visit was an abuse of democratic practice that would not be allowed in Turkey.
"As a European and democratic country, Greece allowed Mr. Aktuna, the Turkish MPs and the entourage of (Turkish) journalists to visit, in the belief that during his visit he would respect the relevant rules of international relations," foreign ministry spokesman Costas Bikas said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, from the very first moment he stepped on Greek soil, Mr. Aktuna's entire behaviour was provocative. He questioned (the validity of) the Treaty of Lausanne and showed that the purpose of his visit was not to protect or improve the climate between Greece and Turkey. But we believe that he had the opportunity to see how the Moslem minority lives and that its rights are fully respected.
"I am afraid that the same would not hold for a Greek official wishing to visit the once thriving Greek minority of Istanbul, of Imvros and Tenedos, because it has shrunk to virtually nothing following the Turkish persecutions of 1942 (Vallik Vergisi), the pogrom against the Greeks of Istanbul in 1955 and the mass expulsions of 12,500 Greeks of Istanbul which had as a result the departure of a much larger number of Greeks in 1964.
"We also doubt whether it would be possible for the official of any foreign country to freely visit all of Turkey accompanied by reporters," Mr. Bikas said.
The statement followed a Turkish protest to the Greek Ambassador in Ankara, Dimitrios Nezeritis, about a demonstration outside the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki during a visit by Mr. Aktuna Wednesday night. Greece has expressed its regret at the demonstration.
Mr. Aktuna and his entourage, which included a Turkish MP and 25 journalists, were met by a demonstration of Cypriots, Kurds, Armenians and Black Sea Greeks (Pontians) as they attempted to enter the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki Wednesday evening, where they spent the night instead of in the hotel they had booked.
The demonstrators were protesting the genocides of Armenians in 1915 and Pontians in 1916-1919, the on-going war against the Kurdish people and the 1974 invasion and continuing occupation of Cyprus.
At the Kipoi border post before leaving Greece, Mr. Aktuna said Pontians, Cypriots and Kurds who demonstrated against him in Thessaloniki on Wednesday night were "common terrorists." Mr. Aktuna reiterated his statement that he would visit Greece again in three months to ascertain whether living conditions for citizens he termed "Turks" had improved in western Thrace, adding that he would start his tour from Athens.
Extremely annoyed by Greek press reports, Mr. Aktuna said he would resort to international press agencies and sue media for abuse directed at him and questioned the concept of democracy in Greece.
Mr. Aktuna's abrasive statements to Moslems throughout Thrace sparked a shower of protests from political parties, and 15 deputies from the ruling PASOK and opposition New Democracy and Political Spring parties demanded that he be declared "persona non grata".
In speeches to Moslems, Mr. Aktuna called on the members of the Greek Moslem minority to call themselves Turks. The rights of the Moslems in Greece and the Orthodox Christians in Istanbul are explicitly set out in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, under which the minority in Western Thrace is referred to as "Moslem".
Before boarding the coach that transported the entourage back to Turkey, Mr. Aktuna told the ANA he was "very sad" that Minister for Macedonia-Thrace Costas Triarides had not invited him to meet during his visit.
Mr. Triarides told reporters in Thessaloniki on Tuesday that Mr. Aktuna had, with his statements at the border before entering Greece, "in effect ruled out the possibility for any meeting or contact we could have had".
"The positions and activity of the Turkish minister on a private visit surpass both our efforts and our desire for improved relations as well as the statements of the Turkish government concerning dialogue and co-operation," Mr. Triarides said.
Greece yesterday expressed regret over Wednesday's incidents in Thessaloniki when Turkish Press Minister Yildirim Aktuna arrived at the Turkish consulate. Government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said Greece deplored violence from whatever source, adding that it had proved repeatedly that it honoured human rights and indicated that problems concerning respect for human rights existed elsewhere.
He said Mr. Aktuna's provocative statements were disrespectful of Greek hospitality and provoked Greek sensitivities and was an attempt to interfere in Greek domestic affairs. "Greek citizens of Moslem religion did not adopt Mr. Aktuna's tactic and manners, who attempted to export Turkey's domestic problems according to his country's standing tactic," Mr. Venizelos said.
Mr. Venizelos further termed allegations on reported Greek involvement in terrorism against Turkey "defamatory."
Replying to a questioner on whether after Mr. Aktuna's visit the government was considering that maybe it should have taken administrative measures, Mr. Venizelos said administrative measures were not suitable since they transferred the basis of discuss ion. The sole issue for discussion, he added, was Mr. Aktuna's provocations.
Greece said yesterday that improvement of relations with Turkey was not possible as long as the Turkish military occupation of Cyprus continued, the status quo in the Aegean was disputed, and Ankara attempts to divert its domestic problems to Greece.
"Greece agrees that both countries will gain from normalisation of their relations. But we do not see such a normalisation as possible when the military occupation of a large part of the Republic of Cyprus continues or the status quo in the Aegean is disputed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Constantine Bikas said.
Mr. Bikas said this equally applied to the "frequently provocative violations of Greek national airspace which necessitate the immediate reaction of our Air Force" and "Turkey's attempts to export its domestic problems to Greece".
Mr. Bikas was commenting on a statement by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in the Turkish Daily News that Turkey had been "unable to rekindle our relations with Greece despite our efforts", adding that the two countries "have much to benefit from normal relations".
Analysing Turkey's foreign relations, Mr. Demirel said that Greece had not responded to Ankara's proposal for the signing of a friendship and good neighbourhood pact. Mr. Bikas told a press briefing that the signing of such a pact, "under these circumstances, would only serve to show that the words have totally lost their meaning".
Commenting on Mr. Demirel's claim of "suspicions" in Turkey that Greece would extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, Mr. Bikas said: "As for the 12 nautical miles, the Greek positions have been repeatedly set out: It is the sovereign prerogative of the Greek government when and if it will exercise this right, which is accorded to it by international law." "The fact that the exercise of international law constitutes a matter of extreme concern for Turkey is not, unfortunately, unusual," Mr. Bikas added.
Mr. Bikas rejected as "untrue" the view that Greece was interfering in the neighbouring country's domestic affairs. Greece would like to see "a prospering and democratic Turkey with European structures and not a country torn by internal conflicts" because "we believe that such a Turkey could contribute to security and stability in the region and would cease to be possessed by a syndrome of aggressiveness".
Referring to Mr. Demirel's call for a change in the negotiation process on the Cyprus issue, Mr. Bikas reiterated that the problem was "one of occupation and continued violation of the most fundamental rules of international law and not a problem of procedure as Ankara attempts to present it".
A strong earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale shook northern Greece in the early morning hours yesterday, following a series of smaller tremors throughout the night. No injuries and only minor damages were reported.
The quake, which struck at 3:34 am, had its epicentre 290 kilometres north of Athens and 60 kilometres east of Thessaloniki, near Arnea in Halkidiki, according to Thessaloniki's Aristotelian University's Geophysics Laboratory, and followed two weaker tremors of 4.7 Richter at 5:17 pm and 6:40 pm, a third tremor of 4.0 Richter at 9:57 pm, and tremors of 5.0 Richter at 12:37 am and 5.1 Richter at 12:43 am.
A number of aftershocks followed, of intensity not exceeding 4.0 Richter. The series of tremors, which were felt also in Pella, Kilkis, Serres and Drama, caused panic among local residents, who spent the night on the streets. Minor damages were reported in villages in the Arnea region.
According to the Geophysics Laboratory director, seismologist Vassilis Papazachos, the 6.0 Richter quake is believed to be the main tremor, as those preceding and following it were all of lesser intensity. He added, however, that one could not be categoric about this before the next 48 hours had passed.
Professor Papazachos told the ANA that the Arnea fault which produced the series of quakes was located near the major Lerissos fault, which caused a 7.2 Richter quake in 1932. He attributed the absence of widespread damage to the fact that the Arnea fault is located in a sparsely populated area.
The Seismic Planning and Protection Organisation (OASP) announced that the seismic activity had been predicted by the VAN group headed by Professor Panayotis Varotsos, which has devised an earthquake prediction method, in a letter to the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Ministry in early April, two days after a 4.8 Richter quake shook the same region on April 4.
Alternate Environment Minister Costas Geitonas said that the team of scientists operating the VAN earthquake prediction system had warned the competent authorities about the Halkidiki quakes 20 days ago. He added that the ministry had set up a scientific committee, according to the procedure to be followed in such cases, and had warned the competent prefectural services to be in a state of readiness.
The VAN method of predicting earthquakes was first introduced after strong quakes in the Corinthian Gulf in 1981. Its name comes from the initials of the three Greek scientists who collaborated in devising it -- Professors Varotsos and Alexopoulos and Dr. Nomikos.
Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will pay a lightning visit to Belgrade today to meet with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Papoulias, who will arrive in Belgrade shortly after noon, will brief Milosevic on the tripartite meeting last Saturday in Tehran on the Bosnian crisis.
At the Tehran meeting, Mr. Papoulias and Iranian and Bosnian foreign ministers Ali Akbar Velayati and Irfan Ljubijankic discussed ways of bringing peace to war-torn Bosnia.
The joint Bosnian peace initiative was launched by Greece, Iran and the Bosnian government two months ago, when the three foreign ministers held similar consultations in Athens on March 8. Mr. Papoulias is expected to return to Athens late this evening to preside over a meeting on issues concerning Greece in view of the EU intergovernmental conference.