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Erdogan Speaks Out on Cyprus Policy - 2003-01-02

Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out against Turkey's long-time policy toward Cyprus, the Mediterranean island that is divided between Turkish and Greek populations and has long been an obstacle to improving relations between Turkey and Greece.

Mr. Erdogan, the leader of the ruling party in Turkey, says he wants substantial changes made in Turkish policy toward Cyprus. In remarks quoted by the Anatolia news agency, the leader of the Justice and Development party said he is not in favor of the continuation of the policy that has been maintained in Cyprus over the past 30-40 years.

Mr. Erdogan also lashed out at Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, accusing him of dragging his feet in U.N.-sponsored reunification talks and urged the swift resumption of discussions.

The United Nations is pushing for a peace deal between Greek and Turkish Cypriots before February 28. That date is important because if there is no agreement by then, it means that next year, when Cyprus is due to enter the European Union, only the Greek part of the island will be accepted.

The U.N. plan seeks to unify the divided island into a single country consisting of two component states.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded the island in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot military coup backed by Athens. Turkey stations 30,000 troops in the north of the island to support the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration headed by Mr. Denktash.

Opponents of Mr. Denktash blame him for blocking an agreement with Greek Cypriots. Last week, some 30,000 Turkish Cypriots staged a rally calling for him to quit in one of the biggest challenges to his rule.

Last month Turkish and Greek Cypriots failed to resolve their differences at an EU summit in Denmark. During the meeting EU officials called on both sides to reach a peace settlement during the upcoming talks.

Analysts say a peace deal on Cyprus is crucial to Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union.