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Turkish Cypriots Demonstrate for Reunification of Divided Island

Tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots have staged a demonstration to demand reunification of the island.

It was the biggest demonstration seen in the Turkish occupied northern part of the Mediterranean island since Cyprus was divided in 1974. That was the year Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus after a brief coup by Greek Cypriots seeking to unite the island with Greece.

Cyprus has been divided ever since, with the self proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, running the northern part of the island, and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government controlling the south.

Waving blue and gold EU flags, at least 50,000 people, one-fourth of the Turkish Cypriot population, called for an end to their isolation. They demanded that their veteran leader, Rauf Denktash, sign on to the U.N. peace plan that would reunite the island as a federation of two states.

One young woman wearing an olive wreath around her head and carrying a banner reading "give peace a chance" explained, "We want Cyprus to be reunited!"

The United Nations has set February 28 as the deadline for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to reach an agreement. The two sides failed to do so during an E.U. summit in Copenhagen last month.

The European Union says if an agreement is not reached it will have no choice but to admit the Greek Cypriot part of the island and leave the Turkish Cypriots out of Europe.

Mr. Denktash now finds himself under pressure from the United Nations and from significant numbers of his own people to strike a deal. The new Turkish government in Ankara, concerned that its bid to join the European Union may be jeopardized by Cyprus' continued division, has also criticized him for dragging his feet.

But the Turkish Cypriot leader can still count on the support of the powerful Turkish military, which maintains at least 30,000 troops on the island and considers Cyprus strategically important for Turkey.

Mr. Denktash objects to provisions of the U.N. peace plan that would involve a reduction of Turkish Cypriot territory and the return of some Greek Cypriots to their homes in the island's north.

But U.N. envoy Alvaro de Soto says the choice Mr. Denktash faces is between the plan on the table and no agreement at all.