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North Cyprus Demonstrators Direct Anger at Turkey's Austerity Measures

Turkish Cypriot protesters hold placards at a demonstration in northern Nicosia, March 2, 2011

An estimated 30,000 Turkish Cypriots have rallied in the northern part of Cyprus calling for the Turkish government in Ankara to re-think an austerity package which many fear will cause mass unemployment.

The mood was buoyant but there was no mistaking the fury felt by thousands of Turkish Cypriots who converged in the center of the divided capital Nicosia for a mass protest against their own leaders and the Turkish government.

Together they waved banners, flags and placards, clapped and blew whistles. Slogans against the Turkish government and Turkish prime minister included “Peace and solution right now”, “Ankara take off your hands”, “We are Turkish Cypriots, who are you mister?”.

Why they're protesting

Opposition parties and trade unions deeply oppose the cuts which include rolling back entry level salaries by 40 percent and raising taxes.

The salary cuts and taxes are aimed at bringing under control an economic policy in north Cyprus which spends over 80 percent of the budget on public workers’ salaries.

Turkey, which props up the north Cyprus economy with huge yearly payments, has demanded the sweeping austerity measures, especially in the bloated public sector. However the Turkish Cypriot demonstrators fear those measures will lead to increased poverty.

Damage control

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s reaction at the first mass rally in January caused outrage amongst Turkish Cypriots, after he appeared to lose his temper and said the protests were damaging the relationship with Ankara and furthering the rival Greek Cypriot cause.

The international community, with the exception of Turkey, does not recognize northern Cyprus as a sovereign state, making trade and industry difficult for the tiny enclave.

The rally was notable for the number of elderly taking part who criticized the public worker salary cuts and also protested at the number of mainland Turks that have recently settled in Cyprus, changing the ethnic makeup of the region.

The once peaceful relationship between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers is fragile.

"I think the EU [European Union] has to get the message; they have to force a solution as soon as possible, otherwise they couldn’t find any original Turkish Cypriots in the north," said one man who attended the rally.

Another man who attended the protest, from Nicosia, spoke about their frustrations with the current situation.

"We want to be our own rulers here in Cyprus, not anybody ruling us and I hope that soon maybe this message can create a positive climate for the negotiations," he said.

Bad news

Cemil Cicek, Turkish State Minister responsible for Cyprus and Deputy has recently remarked that the north of Cyprus will face bankruptcy by the end of this year if urgent measures are not implemented.

Thursday's massive rally was organized by the platform of Turkish Cypriot Trade Unions comprising approximately 30 trade unions and organizations.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a military coup that was backed by the Greek government. South Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

The leaders of North and South Cyprus are currently engaged in U.N.-led negotiations with an aim to reunify the island, but talks have stalled over such issues as power-sharing and the thousands of Turkish troops stationed in northern Cyprus.