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Cyprus Votes in Reunification Referendum - 2004-04-24

Voters in Cyprus go to the polls Saturday, to vote in a referendum on a reunification plan proposed by the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United Nations has invested four years in drawing up its 9000-page blueprint for peace which aims to resolve the 30-year division of Cyprus before the European Union expands next week.

If the plan is approved by the people in both the Greek and Turkish sectors, the whole island will join the EU. If either side rejects it, only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south will join.

The European Union and the United States support the plan which envisages separate Greek and Turkish Cypriot states linked by a weak federal government. However many Greek Cypriots think the plan will limit their chances of returning to properties they lost after the 1974 Turkish invasion. And there is a strong push for a "no-vote" in the island's ethnic Greek sector. The Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos is leading the "no" campaign.

The latest public opinion poll suggests that Turkish Cypriots will vote in favor of the plan. The Turkish government has supported it in an effort to boost its own chances of joining the European Union. But the Turkish Cypriot president Rauf Denktash opposes it.

In the past few days, the Greek Cypriot government has been accused of media interference. The accusation came from supporters of the plan who claim that coverage by the state television station, CYBC, has not been balanced.

The former president of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides, who supports the plan, told VOA that he had been surprised by the state TV coverage.

"It is a fact that most of the TV stations do not give equal time. I must say that in recent years, I haven't seen this phenomenon," he said.

It's a claim rejected by the Greek Cypriot government. Their spokesman is Kypros Chrysostomides.

"The government of Cyprus has never interfered, and cannot interfere, with the workings of the programs of the TV stations or radio stations in Cyprus," he stressed. "Neither for the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, which is governed by a very independent board, and nobody can interfere with their tasks in relation to disseminating information to the public."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that if the plan is rejected on Saturday, his role in Cyprus will be over.

"If they day no, the plan will be dead and my role would have ended," he said.

Secretary-general Annan is the latest in a series of diplomats to try to end the division of Cyprus. Many diplomats and other experts believe this is the Cypriot peoples' best chance for reunification since 1974. But many also expect the plan will be rejected on at least one side of the island.