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Cyprus President warns that Turkey is heading for EU crisis
2006-04-04 17:35:49

NICOSIA, April 4 (Reuters) - Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has said that Turkey was heading for a crisis with the European Union this year unless it opened its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic as Brussels demands.

"If Turkey does not comply, there will be a crisis. But it will be a crisis of its own making, not of Europe's making," Mr. Papadopoulos told Reuters in an interview.

The EU requires Turkey to extend a customs union with the bloc to cover 10 new countries that joined the 25-nation EU in 2004, including Cyprus.

But Ankara, which invaded Cyprus in 1974 and still maintains thousands of troops has so far refused to extend the customs deal to Cyprus, seeking to ease an economic blockade of a breakaway Turkish Cypriot entity in the occupied area of the island in exchange.

The EU will issue a key progress report in October and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned Ankara last week it may face a "train crash" if it did not comply.

The Cypriot President said that although all EU members wanted Turkey to continue on its EU path, they were not prepared to make exceptions for the large Muslim state.

"I don't think there is a country that does not want Turkey to continue negotiations," he said. "(I want to see Turkey) in the EU, provided that it will behave like a European state and comply fully with the obligations that every state has."

A lawyer and long-time politician, President Papadopoulos, 72, stressed that he was willing to go back to the negotiating table as soon as possible provided there were some key changes to the approach that would secure a deal this time around.

"A new round of talks must be in compliance with certain circumstances," he said. "As soon as the Turkish side accepts, we can start next week."

Any new plan must be better prepared and should have the political agreement of both sides before going to a referendum, he said. It should not be under tight deadlines or under the U.N. Secretary General's arbitration.

Mr. Papadopoulos said the failed Annan plan, which envisioned a federation of two equal states with some land returned to the Greek Cypriots, was unfair to his people.

Although he backed the creation of joint technical committees to deal with issues ranging from health to illegal immigration, Mr. Papadopoulos said it was conditional on moving towards discussing issues of substance.

"The aim is for talks to bridge the gap and start preparing substantive talks for a comprehensive solution," he said.

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