- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

Hundreds of Turkish Cypriot protesters stormed parliament in the divided capital of Nicosia last week during unrest over the country's deteriorating economic situation. They took the prime minister and deputies hostage, broke windows and overturned police vehicles before a handful were arrested and the hostages released. The timing could hardly have been worse, occurring as peace talks with Greek Cypriots commenced in Geneva.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has responded to the crisis by largely ignoring it. Insofar as he acknowledges the crisis exists, he prefers to focus on journalists, whom he accuses of "spying" and of stirring up distrust in their country in a time of economic instability. He has also devoted much of his time and energy to criticizing the Greek Cypriots for their hard-line negotiating stance in peace talks intended to resolve disputes over political jurisdiction and territory on the Mediterranean island, divided since 1975.

But his real problem is at home. Approximately one-quarter of the population of Northern Cyprus had money in banks affected by a recent financial crisis, according to Financial Times estimates. Six banks were taken over by the Denktash government after they collapsed earlier this year, and the assets of the depositors with money in those banks were frozen. Mr. Denktash's government had agreed to reimburse the depositors the $200 million lost in 18 installments, but it has been unable to make the payment this month. In the past, Turkey has been a willing benefactor for the Turkish Cypriots. But after Turkey implemented economic reforms this year, per the requirements of admission into the European Union, it could not be as generous as usual.

Even if it could be generous, it's not clear that more handouts from Turkey would solve the problem. Said one of Mr. Denktash's own economic advisers, "The politicians think that a large injection of money will solve the problem. But the basic fact is that those in political power are in collusion with those who hold economic power." Thus Mr. Denktash appears to be part of the economic problem. He may also be part of the political problem. His own political allies are rallying against what they consider heavy-handed, anti-democratic tactics wielded against government critics and journalists.

Still Mr. Denktash has remained in Geneva for peace talks, which finally end today. One irony of the situation is that Mr. Denktash now refuses to meet with Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides until the latter recognizes northern Cyprus as its own state. By continuing to ignore the destabilization of Northern Cyprus' economic and political situation, however, Mr. Denktash himself has undermined his countrymen's ability to gain the international approval for recognition of Northern Cyprus as an independent state which they aptly deserve. For that he has no one to blame but himself.

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