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Head of Turkey's Ruling Party Endorses Kofi Annan's Unification Plan on Cyprus - 2003-02-24

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan held talks in Ankara Monday to lobby support for a plan to reunite the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Amid signs that Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders would not meet a Friday deadline to agree on a re-unification deal, the U.N. chief said he favored an extension.

Speaking to reporters in Turkey, before continuing on to Greece and Cyprus, Mr. Annan said he believed the sides needed a little more time to reach an agreement. He said he would be presenting a revised document to the Greek and Turkish Cypriots within the coming days that took their views into account.

The February 28 deadline for an agreement was originally set so that the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities could hold separate referendums for its approval, before Cyprus signs an accession deal with the European Union in early April.

Failure to strike a deal would mean that the Greek half of the island would join the European Union on its own.

Mr. Annan's comments followed a meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the chairman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in November. Mr. Erdogan has broadly endorsed Mr. Annan's latest plan, saying it constitutes a basis for negotiations between the two side.

But there has been some resistance to the plan from Turkey's powerful military leaders, who say it does not sufficiently guarantee the Turkish Cypriots' security needs.

Turkey is a major player in the Cyprus dispute. Some 30,000 Turkish troops remain in the Turkish-dominated north of the island. Turkish troops invaded the island in 1974, following an abortive coup attempt by Greek Cypriot nationalists.

Unlike previous administrations, Turkey's new government, however, has repeatedly spoken of the need to resolve the Cyprus dispute, saying this will ease Turkey's entry into the European Union. Mr. Erdogan praised Mr. Annan's plan, saying it was "filled with solutions."

His comments were in sharp contrast with those made by the Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis the same day. Mr. Simitis said it would be practically impossible to meet the February 28 deadline for a reunification agreement.