Christofias returns to a firestorm over ‘invasions’ comment

PRESIDENT Demetris Christofias brushed off the media when he returned to the island last night amid a firestorm over comments he made in the US that appeared to equate the 1974 Athens-instigated coup to the Turkish invasion five days later.

Following a successful tour in the US where he addressed the UN General Assembly, met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several world leaders, and inaugurated the Cyprus exhibition at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, Christofias declined to make any comment, particularly relating to his statement which had left all of the political parties other than AKEL furious yesterday.

It was a comment the president made during an address to the prestigious Brookings Institution that caused opposition parties to slam him yesterday for “insulting” Greeks and Greek Cypriots.

Some called on him to apologise for trying to justify the Turkish invasion using Ankara’s own arguments. The Palace also came under fire because the comment had been ignored by state-run media outlets reporting on his Brookings speech.

During his talk on the Cyprus problem at the Washington DC-based think tank, Christofias said Cypriots should take their bitter past into account and draw lessons from it. “But we have to look forward. We have to solve the problem,” he said.

The president said there was no alternative other than peaceful negotiations between the two communities “and of course the involvement, at the end of the day, of the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey, UK) which all played a negative role unfortunately towards the developments in Cyprus.”

“The two so-called main lands, in fact, invaded, both [of them],” the transcript of his comments reads.

Christofias added that fortunately for the people of Greece, the criminal action of the junta (ruling Greece at the time) led to its downfall and “the restoration of democracy in the country in which democracy was born. But Cyprus paid a very high price for this restoration of democracy.”

The ‘invasion’ comment however sparked outrage among the opposition parties.

Main opposition DISY said Christofias had provoked the feelings of Greeks and Greek Cypriots and insulted the Greeks who died defending Cyprus.

“What we heard yesterday (Tuesday) leaves us speechless,” DISY spokesman Haris Georgiades said. “We heard the president of the Republic of Cyprus adopt the Turkish arguments of 1974, equating Greece with the invader and occupier of Cyprus.”

Georgiades urged the president to apologise and withdraw his unfortunate comment .

He also accused the state-controlled media – the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) and broadcaster CyBC of a news blackout on the comment.

“In a four-page (CNA) report of the president’s speech there was no mention of this unfortunate and historically inaccurate statement,’ he said.

Asked if maybe it was just the judgment of the reporter, Georgiades said it was an “amazing assessment.”

“This comment, which has upset the Cypriot people from the moment it was reported, apparently went unnoticed by some at CNA and CyBC news bulletins. Strange,” Georgiades said.

Government partners DIKO said the president’s comment was “unfortunate and wrong.”

“It is wrong to equate Greece with Turkey in the responsibility for the Cypriot tragedy,” spokesman Fotis Fotiou said. “No one disputes that the treacherous coup by the Athens junta on July 15 and the Turkish invasion on July 20, 1974 constitute two acts of the same crime against Cyprus and it is now historically and politically substantiated.”

EDEK said the comment was a “tragic blunder”. “We are truly sorry, because President Christofias once more voices comments which falsify the historic truth … creating wrong and misleading impressions,” EDEK spokesman Demetris Papadakis said.

Ruling AKEL denied that the president had equated the July 15, 1974 Athens-backed coup with the subsequent Turkish invasion five days later.

The Greek junta was part of the coup against the Republic of Cyprus and essentially implemented plans drawn at NATO, together with the local EOKA B (Greek Cypriot armed group), and contributed towards Turkey finding an excuse – it was seeking for years — to invade the island, AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said.

“The coup does not justify the Turkish invasion in any case, and more so, no one can justify the continuous Turkish occupation in Cyprus,” Kyprianou said.

He added that this was the party’s position all along and expressed his regret that one phrase was isolated in an attempt to disprove this when the speech had many examples, which clarified things.

Last night in another bid to play down the statement – and the subsequent heated reactions – Deputy Government Spokesman Christos Christofides said the president’s   comment was taken out of context.

“When someone extracts one line out of a ten-line sentence, you understand other conclusions can be reached,” said Christofides.

He said Christofias had done nothing else but fight for the good of Cyprus, and called on the critics to “apologise”.

“We are saddened and disappointed to observe this malicious attempt to attribute views and positions to the President of the Republic, when Demetris Christofias’ real, steady and diachronic views have been well known for the past 20 years, while he has been at the centre of the state’s political scene,” said Christofides.

“It is obvious that certain people haven’t even bothered to read the president’s speech because if they had, they would understand that the president was referring to the junta; unless, of course, these people associate junta with Greece,” he added.

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