Edek poised to walk out of government

By Anthony O. Miller

DEFENCE Minister Yiannakis Omirou said last night it was “very likely” the Socialist Party would leave the government after President Glafcos Clerides decided to deploy Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles on Crete instead of in Cyprus.

“The political bureau of the Socialist Party has decided to suggest to the Central Committee to abandon the government,” Omirou told the Cyprus Mail in a telephone interview. “This is the decision.”

“The Central Committee… will take the final decision on Saturday afternoon,” he said, but he added: “No, I don’t see” junior coalition partner Edek staying in the government after that Saturday decision.

Both Omirou and Education and Culture Minister Lycourgos Kappas are Edek members and are expected to hand Clerides their resignations on Monday if Edek’s Central Committee follows the political bureau’s recommendation.

“I don’t want, of course, to say the Central Committee will make one or another decision. It is not correct. It is the rule of democracy that the party must be free to take any decision,” Omirou said.

“But we have the political bureau suggestion now to abandon the government, ” Omirou said, so it’s “very probable” that Edek will quit the government.

“Of course, we will put a letter to the president next week,” announcing the final decision, he added.

Edek’s departure would not endanger the current government, which is based on a presidential system, but it would mean a cabinet reshuffle. There has been speculation that Clerides was in any case planning a reshuffle in the new year, with potential victims including Finance Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou, embattled Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides and Government Spokesman Christos Stylianides.

Edek President Vassos Lyssarides said after yesterday’s Edek political bureau decision that: “We consider the decision not to deploy the defence missile system in Cyprus as wrong, and disagree with the arguments put forward.”

Lyssarides, a staunch supporter of deploying the missiles in Cyprus, said Clerides’ decision to deploy them instead in Crete, “will have dire consequences for Cyprus and Hellenism as a whole.”

“For reasons of political credibility and sincerity, the political bureau is recommending to the Central Committee of the party its immediate withdrawal from the government,” Lyssarides said.

He said the two UN resolutions approved last week by the Security Council on the Cyprus problem “do not in the slightest, satisfy the logical preconditions our side had set in order to cancel the deployment of the S- 300s.”

The Clerides government had said it would only consider cancelling the missiles’ deployment if there were substantive progress in Cyprus settlement negotiations, or talks were begun for arms reduction leading to total demilitarisation of the island.

The UN resolutions merely urge Secretary-General Kofi Annan to “intensify” UN efforts for a Cyprus settlement and demilitarisation, and commit the Western powers, led by the United States, to work energetically towards both those ends.

Lyssarides said his party had joined the Clerides government, believing it would work for “the promotion of the Cyprus problem in the right direction.”

However, he said, Clerides’ missile decision undermined this confidence and made Cyprus and Greece – Athens wanted the missiles stored in Crete – appear to depend for their policies on reacting to Turkey’s threats and pressure from foreign powers.

Furthermore, he said, Clerides’ decision undermined the credibility of the joint Greece-Cyprus Common Defence Dogma signed in 1993, and committing Greece to the defence of Cyprus in case of attack by Turkey.

Turkey had threatened to “take out” the S-300 missiles, which it saw as a threat to its dominance of the airspace of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece responded by warning that such action would spark war between Greece and Turkey, both members of Nato. Washington and London responded with dismay and warnings that the missiles would further destabilise the volatile Middle East.