PRESIDENTIAL candidate George Iacovou yesterday backtracked on earlier statements opposing the deployment of the S-300 missiles, saying he would work for their arrival and installation if elected president.
On Monday, he had told Sigma TV that the missile order was jeopardising the settlement process and that he would cancel the order if elected.
But yesterday Iacovou said he would strive in co-operation with the Greek government for the "arrival and installation" of the missiles in Cyprus.
Iacovou, a nominally independent candidate, is backed by left-wing Akel and right-wing Diko.
Iacovou said his earlier comments that the missiles' arrival would "demolish" interest on the Cyprus problem in fact referred to assertions made by foreign observers.
"Those who we have said will develop an initiative for a solution to the Cyprus problem simultaneously say the missiles should not arrive," he explained.
He pointed out the defensive nature of the S-300 missiles and said their purchase constituted part of the island's defence strategy.
Turkey had already armed herself with Popeye missiles bought from Israel, he said, so purchasing the S-300 missiles should have no effect on the bi- communal discussions over the Cyprus problem.
"It is an additional weapon in our arsenal," said Iacovou.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Yiorgos Charalambides said yesterday it would be "naivety" on the part of the government not to expect an international response to the deployment of the missiles.
But this very response, he continued, should be one of the reasons prompting these countries to secure a solution to the Cyprus problem.
"President Clerides has repeatedly stated that the S-300s would not arrive... if the specific talks on demilitarisation yielded such a positive result that there was indeed demilitarisation, or if talks on the Cyprus problem were in a good state," Charalambides said.
The Defence Minister also pointed out that Cyprus would assume responsibility for the missiles after their delivery from Russia and that all necessary measures to this end had been taken.
On a more general tack, Iacovou yesterday aimed another salvo at Clerides over his handling of the Cyprus problem, saying his supposedly "courageous" ideas had "given the green light" for European officials to undermine Cyprus as an entity, reinforcing the 'TRNC'.
But government spokesman Manolis Christofides was dismissive of the claim: he said Iacovou and his Akel supporters were "leading the public astray" with such "sycophantic" statements.
Christofides told his daily press briefing that numerous Security Council resolutions proved that "we refer to one and only government and one (political) entity".
Also airing his opinion on the S-300s, right-wing New Horizons candidate Nicos Koutsou said the issue of the missiles and the military alliance with Greece should not be used for electoral purposes.
Speaking at a news conference in Limassol yesterday, Koutsou said his party was "definitely for the instalment of the (missile) system" since there was little prospect of a solution to the Cyprus problem or demilitarisation.
Referring to the current discussions as to the existence of an American initiative on the problem, Koutsou deemed them "unnecessary and misleading", and an attempt to distance public opinion from the important issues.
He predicted little progress in the national problem and said Turkey's aggressive tactics were increasing.
Koutsou also stressed that none of the positions he had put forward so far pre-determined his party's decision in the second round of the February presidential elections.
WITH polling day for the presidential elections less than four weeks away, the House plenum will today consider an Akel proposal for a change to the electoral law.
The opposition party wants the law to be amended so that votes are counted at district centres rather than at local polling stations. Akel is also proposing that a voting card be valid even if the voter has placed his cross on the photograph of his chosen candidate rather than in the blank space below.
The eleventh-hour amendment was discussed at the House Interior committee yesterday and is to go before the plenum today.
The proposal seems to have the support of Diko and Edek as well as Akel and might therefore be approved during this afternoon's plenum session - the last before the February elections.
Akel deputy Andreas Christou told the committee yesterday that if votes were counted in regional polling stations it would make it easier for the count to be "influenced" or interfered with. He said parties did not have enough "capable members" to post someone to watch counting procedure at all local polling stations.
Disy deputy Lefteris Christoforou retorted that it was "incorrect" for the electoral law to be amended so close to polling day. He added that the law in its current form had only recently been unanimously approved by the House.
Election service officials told the committee that while last minute changes to the law might cause procedural problems and cost the state money, they would be ready to handle the situation if it arose.
Akel, Edek and Diko called for Michail to be replaced after he publicly expressed support for Diko vice-chairman Dinos Michaelides as he abandoned his post as Interior Minister following his party's withdrawal from the Disy-Diko government coalition.
But Michaelides's ministerial successor, George Stavrinakis, said yesterday he had decided Michail would stay. He said Michail's controversial statements had been "felicitations" and not "party political statements".
Speaking during Stavrinakis' swearing-in ceremony, Michail said he "could only hope" Michaelides would return as Interior Minister "soon".
Akel, Edek and Diko claimed Michail had shown favouritism and could not be relied upon to act as an impartial returning officer.
"Before arriving at this decision, and without ignoring the reactions to his statements, I satisfied myself there was no way the returning officer could interfere either with the result of the process of the elections, even if he wanted to," Stavrinakis said.
He said Michail's duties during the elections would be "routine only".
THE BRITISH bases yesterday categorically denied reports that Turkish warplanes had flown over the SBA.
But Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides disputed the denial.
"We will speak with them and inform them about the data our radars received, " Cassoulides said in reply to a journalist's questions over the alleged incident.
Earlier, bases spokesman Mervyn Wynne-Jones had said there had been no overflights of Sovereign Base Area air space by any Turkish aircraft, as alleged in the local press.
"There is no substance to any of the media reports of the past 24 hours," Wynne-Jones said.
British High Commissioner David Madden also said yesterday he was not aware of any such violations.
Madden was speaking after paying a call on President Clerides along with the incoming and outgoing bases commanders, Major General Angus Ramsay and Air Vice Marshal Peter Millar.
Millar who retires from his post tomorrow, said of the alleged violations: "if they did, I know nothing about it and I would not comment on it anyway."
Millar said the agreement with the Cyprus government was "that we use the bases for British and Commonwealth forces" and that they were never used for anything else.
The reports of a flyover at the British bases came in the wake of a number of overflights by Turkish planes on Monday.
The government said Turkish spy planes had flown 14 nautical miles south of the new Paphos air base and taken photographs of the site.
Cassoulides said the government was making the necessary representations.
He said Turkish threats over the air base, which the government will take delivery of next week, "do not frighten us".
"For the moment, our decision is to use it only in the case of a Turkish offensive against the free part of Cyprus," Cassoulides said.
He said Athens and Nicosia had discussed all political measures they would take to tackle Turkish threats.
"Cyprus and Greece feel confident they can handle any developments affecting Cyprus," he said.
BRITISH Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said yesterday the prospect of Cyprus joining the EU offered Britain the opportunity to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the island.
Cook was speaking in Strasbourg in an address to the European Parliament. Britain took over the EU's six-monthly rotating presidency on January 1.
"The EU supports the UN Secretary-general in his efforts to find a political solution of Cyprus," Cook said. "We hope the leaders of the two communities will resume UN-led negotiations after the elections."
In Nicosia, British High Commissioner David Madden said yesterday that Britain would play a very major role in assisting UN efforts towards a Cyprus solution after the elections.
Speaking after a meeting with President Clerides, Madden said: "Our expectation is that after the elections the UN process will resume and, as in the past, Britain will play a very major role in assisting the UN and the Security Council to make progress in solving the Cyprus problem."
Cook said Britain welcomed the willingness of the government to include Turkish Cypriots in the delegation for accession negotiations.
But he added Cyprus was entitled to have its application for membership considered on its own "strong" merits, and that its progress must not be conditional on a solution to the division of the island.
"We would like to see a bi-zonal, bi-communal, federal Cyprus join the EU. We will now work hard to take forward the accession of Cyprus," Cook said.
He also said Britain would be working hard to strengthen relations between the EU and Turkey.
"Turkey matters, both as a major player in an important region and as a long-time ally," Cook said.
"We recognise Turkey's European vocation and the need to draw her into the enlargement process. We have laid down the criteria for all states wishing to join the EU - the need for a market economy, democratic governance and observance of human rights. Turkey's candidacy must be judged by the same objective criteria as any other country."
Cook and European Commission vice-president Sir Leon Brittan are expected to be in Washington today where the Cyprus problem is expected to be raised with US officials.
They are scheduled to meet this afternoon with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other senior American officials.
The Cyprus question is expected to be discussed in connection with Turkey, the Middle East, Algeria and other issues, prior to a joint press conference by the officials.
Meanwhile, a delegation of representatives from the US Congress arrive on the island today for a two-day visit.
According to the US embassy, the trip is part of an overall visit to the region, including Greece and Turkey. Its aim is to meet officials of the government and the UN regarding developments in the Cyprus problem.
The delegation is also expected to meet Turkish Cypriot officials.
Turkish Cypriot daily Yeniduzen reported yesterday that the British government had decided to demand visas of Turkish Cypriots wanting to enter the UK as from January 15.
The spokesman for the British High Commission in Nicosia, Piers Cazalet, said he could not comment on the report, but said there would be a "British government statement in parliament tomorrow."
"We have been concerned for some time about the number of Turkish Cypriot asylum seekers arriving at British ports, but I cannot comment further," he said.
Returning to Cyprus for a second tour of duty, Major General Angus Ramsay CBE will take up the appointment as Administrator of the Sovereign Base Areas and Commander of the British Forces in Cyprus.
He will replace Air Vice Marshal Peter Millar, CBE who is returning to the UK on retirement from the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Major General Ramsay, who joined he army in 1964 and who was commissioned into the Royal Highland Fusiliers, was Chief of Staff at the Bases in 1992 and 1993.
During his career he served in Germany, Gibraltar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Oman, Singapore, the US and more recently in the former Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe.
He has also seen operational service in both Northern Ireland and Dhofar, where he commanded a rifle company of the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces during the Dhofar war. He was chief of Staff of the United Nations Force in Bosnia in 1993 and 1994.
Major General Ramsay is married with two children, and was appointed CBE in 1992.
Yesterday he met President Clerides, accompanied by Millar and by British High Commissioner David Madden.
He said records also showed that more than 23,000 people had been seriously injured in road accidents between 1977 and 1997.
"The number of people killed in road accidents every year exceeds 100 and the number of serious injuries is between 3,000 and 3,500," Hadjiloizou said.
Cyprus has the second worst road death rate in Europe.
Hadjiloizou said police would now be using unmarked police cars fitted with speed traps to catch speeding drivers. He said the incognito patrol cars would be driven by uniformed officers and supplied with detachable magnetic flashing roof lights for use when stopping suspected offenders.
The police chief said most serious road accidents were the result of speeding.
The better news, Hadjiloizou said, was that the number of road victims had been reduced by almost 14 per cent last year compared to 1996. One-hundred- and-fifteen people died on the roads last year.
A TURKISH Cypriot was remanded in custody for five days yesterday by the Larnaca District court, suspected of stealing icons and illegally trading in archaeological treasures.
Ali Can, 22, and passenger Halil Kandemir, 22, were arrested on Tuesday after their car with Turkish Cypriot number plates was stopped by police in Larnaca.
Turkish Cypriot press reports said yesterday they had crossed from the occupied Pergamos checkpoint to go to Pyla, and accidentally ended up in Larnaca.
Can was remanded in custody for five days yesterday after Larnaca police found 14 pictures of icons, believed to be stolen from churches in occupied Famagusta, beneath the carpet of the car.
But the Larnaca District court allowed Kandemir to be released as there was insufficient evidence that he was aware of the hidden photographs in the car.
Investigating officer Theodoros Sergiou said that according to Can's statement to police, a Turkish officer had ordered him to steal a number of icons from churches in occupied Famagusta during his military service in the Turkish Cypriot armed forces. These were to be placed in a museum in the occupied areas, Can told police.
Sergiou said Can had named the Turkish officer as well as a Turkish archaeologist who took the icons and placed them in the occupied Famagusta museum.
Interpol, Sergiou added, had been contacted and would be looking to see whether they had files on the officer or the archaeologist.
In his statement, Can admitted to having a camera in his possession in addition to the photographs, Sergiou said.
He added that Can had also given police details on thefts committed in occupied Famagusta during 1997.
Kandemir told police he knew nothing about the icons.
The investigating officer also said the Archbishopric had been informed of the matter and would inspect the photographs to determine which church the icons had been stolen from, as well as their value.
The possibility of a link between the icons and the ones recently discovered in Munich would also be looked into, Sergiou said.
He did not rule out Greek Cypriot collaboration in the illegal trade of icons, adding investigations would also determine how far Can's presence in the government controlled area might have been to secure potential buyers.
Shepherd George Choraitis, 27, was described as being in a stable condition yesterday after being shot at least twice by unknown assailants.
Choraitis needed emergency surgery after being wounded in the chest and head in the incident which took place outside his home in the village of Stavrokonnou.
Doctors at Paphos hospital yesterday said his progress in the next 48 hours would be crucial.
Paphos police launched an attempted murder inquiry immediately after the incident; they believe a hunting rifle was used in the attack.
According to preliminary inquiries, Choraitis was shot at close range after getting out of his car.
His three-year-old son was with him at the time.
It is understood that despite his injuries the father-of-two managed to reach his front door and raise the alarm.
The police investigation is taking into account the fact that the victim and his 28-year-old brother Antonio were arrested two weeks ago in connection with a suspected arson attack at a farm in nearby Kelokedara.
Both were later released for lack of evidence.
Paphos CID are continuing their investigation.
The maid told Larnaca police that her employer, from Meneou, had made repeated unwanted advances towards her.
She said the sexual advances took place at his residence between January 2 and January 12 of this year.
The suspect was arrested yesterday and later released until police complete their inquiries.
Kiti police are continuing their investigation.
The two school friends, Antonia Demetriou, 15, and Maria Kavazi, 16, had been reported missing on Monday.
The teenage girls were escorted by their parents to Limassol police station for questioning to find out why they had run away from home.
A police search of Limassol could initially find no trace of the girls, but a trail later led them to Nicosia.
According to eye-witness evidence the two girls were seen at around 7pm on Tuesday leaving a Nicosia hotel and getting into a red VW Golf.
Police also received information that the school girls had been driven by car to Lakatamia and then on to Peristerona.
After a 48-hour search the police finally tracked down the girls to nearby Orounta.
The Turkish Daily News yesterday quoted Turkish Cypriot 'Deputy Prime Minister' Serdar Denktash, son of the Turkish Cypriot leader, as saying there was no illicit money flow to the north and no suspicious increase in the amount of money that had recently entered the occupied areas.
The allegations were made earlier this week in an Italian newspaper, which claimed the Turkish mafia was laundering millions of dollars in profits from illegal immigration and drug trafficking in offshore banks in the north.
The paper said that Turkish politicians, including former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and current President Suleyman Demirel, were allegedly involved in these activities.
It also described occupied Nicosia as the world's "ideal city", where 36 offshore banks and subsidiaries of 29 "normal banks" had started operating in the past three years, along with eight casinos.
But Serdar Denktash turned his fire on the south: "If we take into account the large number of offshore banks in Greek Cyprus and its proven links with certain terrorist organisations, it is quite likely that the money is being laundered in Greek Cyprus," Denktash said.
"Those who are interested in the issue should rather turn their attention to Greek Cyprus."