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Europe

Cyprus Misses "An Historic Opportunity"

World leaders reacted with disappointment and anger to Greek Cypriots' rejection of a U.N. peace plan to reunite their island. Europe has vowed to help the long-isolated Turkish north, which failed to get EU entry.

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Turkish Cypriot supporters of the peace plan earned the praise of the EU, but not entry.

Leaders across the world expressed frustration and disappointment at the results of Saturday's referendum in Cyprus, in which an overwhelming 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against a U.N. peace plan to reunite their island.

Kofi Annan

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan

U.N. Secretary-General and architect of the peace plan, Kofi Annan (photo) said Cyprus has "missed an historic opportunity to resolve 30 years of division." The island will remain "divided and militarized" as it joins the European Union on May 1, Anan said.

Annan's plan envisaged a federation of two politically equal states, one for the 643,000 Greek Cypriots and one for the 180,000 Turks and Turkish Cypriots in the north, under a weak central government.

The U.N. Secretary-General, who was at the center of mediation efforts between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, however indicated he still hadn't given up hope that a solution could be found. A statement from Annan's office also said he hoped Greek Cypriots "may arrive at a different view in the fullness of time after a profound and sober assessment of today's decision."

The U.N. reunification plan required agreement from both sides of the island. But, despite European and American support, Greek Cypriots rejected it in large numbers and Turkish Cypriots heavily endorsed it. As a result only the southern Greek Cypriot half of Cyprus will join the EU on May 1, enjoying EU laws and benefits.

EU considers ways to help northern Cyprus

The European Commission also reacted sharply to the rejection of the peace plan. "A unique opportunity to bring about a solution to the long-lasting Cyprus issue has been missed," the European Commission said in a statement.

It however praised Turkish Cypriots for their "yes" vote (65 percent) and said it would consider ways to promote economic development in the poorer Turkish northern half amid fears that the region would slide into further isolation. The Turkish northern half of Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

Günter Verheugen

EU enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen

"There is a shadow now over the accession of Cyprus´," the EU commissioner for expansion, Günter Verheugen (photo) told Germany's ARD television. "What we will seriously consider now is finding a way to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots."

Experts believe that one way of doing that is to use the same funds that were earmarked for the Turkish Cypriot half in the eventuality that it would enter the EU.

Turkish Cypriots warn against further isolation

Many Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders have urged the EU to reverse the further isolation of the region.

Volksabstimmung Zypern EU Anhänger Nordzypern

Turkish Cypriot supporters of the Cyprus reunification plan

Hardline Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash -- a fierce opponent of the U.N. plan -- has called on the world to stop pressing the two sides to live together. But others such as his Prime Minister Mehment Talat, a supporter of the plan, has called on the EU and UN to take measures to redress the irony that the side that rejected the plan will become an EU member in a week's time.

His calls are echoed by Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, said, "The embargoes must be lifted, the isolation must be brought to an end."

Disappointment across the world

Across, the world, leaders reacted with dejection and sadness at the outcome of the referendum.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington was "disappointed" by the Greek Cypriot vote, calling it a "setback" to those seeking a united Cyprus.

Even British Foreign Minsiter Jack Straw said in London he hoped that the inhabitants of southern Cyprus would once again reconsider "whether this vote is the right one for them."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he was at a loss to understand that the citizens of southern Cyprus hadn't seized the "big chance" that the U.N. plan offered them.

Greek Cypriots still interested in reunification

The mood on the Greek side was subdued after results of the referendum trickled in, with streets and cafes wearing a deserted look.

Cyprus, a former British colony, has been divided since 1974 ever since Turkey invaded the north in the wake of a Greek Cypriot coup in an attempt to unite the island with Greece. A mined no-man's land, the "Green Line," which is policed by U.N. peacekeepers, separates the northern one-third of the island from the south.

The peace plan's outcome was more or less sealed after prominent Greek Cypriot leaders said they were unhappy with the details that favored the Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriot leaders in particular objected to the fact that the blueprint restricts the rights of an estimated 200,000 refugees to return to their former homes in the north, while allowing more than 60,000 settlers from Turkey to remain on the island.

Volksabstimmung Zypern Präsident Tassos Papadopoulos

Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos

However on Sunday, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos (photo) -- who has been accused of running a campaign playing on Greek Cypriot fears that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots would fail to hand back nine percent of the island's territory and gradually withdraw 38,000 Turkish troops -- urged the Turkish Cypriots not to abandon efforts to reunite the island within the EU.

"Our road will not be paved with roses… but we will not be deterred," he said.

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