FORGET the S-300s - another crisis is threatening to undermine the very fabric of Cypriot society by hiking the price of the island's favourite delicacy, sheftalia.
Such is the demand for the barbecued pork morsel that the near 500,000 pigs slaughtered every year here do not provide enough of the pana pig gut used to wrap the oblong-shaped spicy bonne bouche. Each pig produces enough pana for only five or six sheftalia, so huge quantities of the pig gut are imported.
Last year, food importers beat off rival bids from the French cosmetics industry to import a massive 300,000 tonnes of Danish pig gut at a premium price.
But the Customs and Excise department has now thrown a spanner in the works by raising the duty on the imported gut by 45 per cent.
The import tax hike, forced by a reclassification of pana as offal rather than meat, means the price of sheftalia is set to rocket.
Kebab shop owners - for whom sheftalia are an indispensable accompaniment to souvlakia pork kebabs - are up in arms.
"All kebabs served with sheftalia will soon be out of the ordinary person's price range," one Nicosia kebab shop owner said yesterday.
And now importers fear the increased duty could mean they are no longer in a position to compete with the French cosmetics industry to buy up the Danish production - leaving our sheftalia unwrapped.
The food importers' branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Keve) is doing all it can to get the Customs and Excise department to reverse the decision, their representative Takis Photiades said yesterday.
"Unfortunately, the new duty has already been imposed: some importers have paid it, while others are keeping the product in customs awaiting the authority's response to the repeated strong protests of the importers," he said.
The director of the Customs and Excise Department, Andy Trifonitis, seemed to be bowing to the pressure yesterday. He promised the duty hike would be reconsidered.
"We decided to seek the opinion of the EU. Yesterday I received the answer that we had correctly classified the product," he said.
"I also met one of the food importers yesterday who claimed the way we had described the product to the EU was wrong. I undertook to look at the matter again."
Despite the uncertainty, at least one sheftalia devotee was determined not to give up his favourite tit-bit - whatever happens.
"It's part of our national heritage, and I for one will not eat anything else - regardless of the price," he said.
RUSSIA'S Ambassador to Nicosia Georgi Muratov yesterday took his turn to beat off international criticism of his country's controversial deal to sell S-300 missiles to Cyprus.
"Such pressures are a violation of the sovereign right of Russia and the Cyprus Republic to develop relations in any sector, including military co- operation," Muratov said after a morning meeting with President Clerides.
On Monday, Clerides issued a statement vowing the government would not bow to "threats and blackmail" concerning the missiles.
Turkish officials have been busy repeating threats that deployment of the Russian-made ground-to-air missiles could mean war, while international opposition to the deal has been mounting.
Muratov described such objections as "incomprehensible" and "totally against the rules of international justice."
"I want to say that we predicted there could be reactions (to the missile deal), we know how to stop these, but," he added, "we also say that no country with status or self-respect could bow to pressures."
The government remains adamant the £200 million ground-to-air missiles will arrive unless there is significant progress towards a settlement or a demilitarisation deal, but has put back delivery till October.
Muratov reconfirmed the deal was still on. But opposition to remains as strong as ever.
The Reuters news agency yesterday quoted a US official in Manila as saying Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had reiterated US concerns about the deployment of the S-300s.
"The seriousness of the situation is recognised by everybody, but they haven't identified a way out yet," the official said.
Back in Nicosia, Muratov dismissed suggestions the missiles' radar system could pose a security risk for Nato. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem stated on Sunday the radar system could be used to gather information on Turkish and Nato military activity for Cyprus and Russia.
"We have a special agreement with Nato for deep, wide co-operation and I do not know of any Nato involvement on this issue," Muratov said.
Later in the day, Government spokesman Christos Stylianides dismissed reports the Greek government was unhappy with the pressure it was being put under because of the missile deal.
He revealed that the decision to order the missiles had been taken jointly by Nicosia and Athens.
"It was a joint decision, as part of the Common Defence Dogma," Stylianides told his daily press briefing.
"The greek government is totally in agreement with the position of the Cyprus government. The decision to buy the S-300s is supported totally by both Greece and Cyprus."
In his first meeting with deputies Angelides set the record straight during a rowdy debate on police promotions, transfers and disciplinary procedures.
He warned deputies to be especially cautious when trying to make political capital out of such procedures as they would be in danger of violating the constitution.
"We can't have intervention every time there is a simple transfer from one department to another... you must allow us to do our job properly," said Angelides.
Earlier the committee continued its probe into corruption allegations against former Larnaca police chief Andreas Minas, accused of being in the pockets of cabaret owners.
Minas came face to face with his accuser - officer Stelios Parpas - yesterday and said his hands were clean.
"I haven't even got five cents worth of dirty money in my pocket after 18 years of unblemished service," said Minas.
The Council of Ministers is expected to appoint an investigator to investigate the allegations against Minas.
CONVICT Tassos Simellides, jailed for nine years last year for his part in the attempted murder of gambling club owner Antonis Fanieros, yesterday sent his mother and wife to plead with Justice Minister Nicos Koshis for his early release.
The minister's office confirmed that Koshis had met with the two women, but said the minister was not commenting on the matter.
Father-of-three Simellides is reportedly claiming he was promised a prompt release in return for testifying against three Aeroporos brothers charged with involvement in the machine-gun attack in Larnaca on May 29 last year.
Simellides's testimony before the Assizes court failed to secure the conviction of Aeroporos brothers Hambis, 35, Andros, 30, and Panicos, 25. During a year-long trial, Simellides, who admitted to acting as get-away driver for the attack, named Hambis as instigator, Andros as architect and Panicos as hit-man for the attack.
But the court dismissed his testimony, saying police and the Justice Ministry had made promises to the convict to get him to testify against the suspects. The court decision also noted the absence of concrete evidence to link the Aeroporos brothers to the crime.
Simellides, from Limassol, is serving his sentence in a safe house with round-the-clock police guard, for fear the Aeroporos clan might try to kill him. Protecting the 28-year-old convict costs the state an estimated £15, 000 a day.
The convict is now seeking a Presidential pardon. Koshis paid President Clerides a visit later yesterday.
The minister declined to comment on what he had discussed with the President. He said pardon pleas were a matter for the President and Attorney-general Alecos Markides to decide.
Markides saw the President at the same time as Koshis, but he too declined to comment on what had been discussed.
Markides said he had received no official pardon plea from Simellides.
The Attorney-general is challenging the Assizes decision to acquit the three Aeroporos brothers before the Supreme Court.
Last year's attack was described as a gangland hit, part of an ongoing feud between Limassol and Larnaca gangs vying for control of lucrative gambling, prostitution and drugs rings.
Fanieros, 57, survived despite being hit in the neck as he came under a hail of machine-gun fire.
SOLIDARITY among the hunger striking boat people seems to be at a low ebb, with police confirming yesterday that a majority of them had eaten lunch.
Seventy of the 103 migrants holed up at the Pefkos hotel in Limassol, began a hunger strike on Monday in protest against government plans to deport them.
But the resolve of the Arabs and Africans - who were rescued half-starved from the drifting Rida Allah on June 29 - is petering out, as the hunger pangs bring back bad memories of their ordeal at sea.
"Half of the hunger strikers went down for lunch and the other half went down for dinner," a Limassol police spokesman said yesterday.
He added that "everyone seems to be eating okay."
Most of the remaining 103 boat people, including eight children and two pregnant women, want to stay in Cyprus or be given save passage to a third country.
The government has so far said three of the migrants would be granted asylum, though not in Cyprus, and is determined to deport or repatriate the rest. Ten Syrians have already been flown back home.
Limassol police said that no further deportations took place yesterday.
PARENTS are up in arms over the government's decision to allow conscientious objectors an opt-out from military service, saying it smacks of double standards.
"Why in time of war should our children fight for those who will not fight for reasons of conscience?" a statement from the Pancyprian Organisation of Large Families (Pop) asked yesterday.
The strongly-worded statement went on to question the government's decision.
"Why should other children make sacrifices, fight and be killed, while others are saved and appear more clever for not doing their military service?"
Pop is strongly opposed to a Cabinet decision taken earlier this month, which allows genuine conscientious objectors to join the ranks of the civil defence as an alternative to military service.
The non-military alternative does not require the applicants to wear a uniform, and the length of service is the same as that served by conscripts (26 months).
In recent years, the government has come under harsh criticism from Amnesty International for its draconian treatment of conscientious objectors, mainly Jehovah's Witnesses. The human rights group charged that unarmed alternatives were punitive in length, stretching way beyond 26 months.
The decision may have satisfied Amnesty's demands and will prevent Jehovah's Witnesses from serving jail terms for refusing call-up, but Pop's outbursts have signalled a concerted backlash.
The Cyprus Association of Parents is also preparing an offensive against the government on the issue, and will hold a press conference tomorrow to state its objections.
Pop has made it clear it believes there are no grounds for people to reject national service for moral or religious reasons.
"We recognise and respect the beliefs of others, but we all have obligations and duties which supersede personal and individual rights."
The organisation points out that one of those all-important duties is serving in the National Guard, especially in a time of occupation.
The statement claims that soldiers feel "bitter" and "frustrated" at the decision because they fear it will open the door draft-dodgers.
Parents say they will continue to confront the government until it reconsiders its stance on conscientious objectors.
The no-frills airline owned by innovative Cypriot entrepreneur Stelios Hadji-Ioannou yesterday announced it had placed firm orders for 15 new generation Boeings in addition to taking out options on a further 15. The company currently possesses 12 older generation Boeings.
The move seems ceratin to increase competition between low-cost airlines in the UK.
Based at Luton airport, Easy-Jet has established a second hub at Liverpool airport, with flights to Amsterdam, Nice, Barcelona and Athens. The company has taken advantage of the liberalisation of the European aviation market.
The London to Athens flight was perhaps a sign of things to come for Cyprus Airways (CY). When Easy-Jet began flying to Athens in July for a mere £69 sterling one way, CY quickly responded to the challenge by agreeing with Olympic Airways to offer a cheap shuttle service between Athens and Larnaca at £90 return.
But Hadji-Ioannou also announced in June plans to service the Larnaca- London route at a cost of just £79 sterling, starting next year.
Since then, the government has been debating whether to grant Easy-Jet landing rights, putting the cut-price company in direct competition with CY. The government has no obligation to do so until it becomes a full EU member.
Commerce, Industry and Tourism Minister Nicos Rolandis has told the Cyprus Mail that liberalisation of flights is inevitable and that CY would have to deal with the challenge sooner or later. Rolandis had also suggested that this challenge might be a wake-up call for CY to set its financial record straight.
Meanwhile Hadji-Ioannou is currently involved in two legal battles. In the UK, he won the right this year to challenge British Airways' support for its own subsidiary low-cost airline, Go, although he failed to win an injunction to prevent Go from operating. In Greece, he is being sued by travel agents objecting to his refusal to use their services.
In a recent interview to a Greek paper, Hadji-Ioannou was asked to explain how his company was doing well despite the low air fares. His "secret of success" seems to be threefold. First, by eliminating the travel agents as middlemen, he has significantly cut down on commissions. Second, catering on Easy-Jet flights is available to passengers at an extra charge. And lastly, the fees for using Luton airport as a hub are relatively low compared to other airports.
Paphos Mayor Pheidias Sarikas yesterday visited President Glafcos Clerides and briefed him on Chrysanthos' business activities in the Paphos district.
The Paphos municipality is protesting a Cabinet ruling to transfer a large tract of land in Moussalas to the Paphos bishopric, which plans to construct a cathedral on the site.
The mayor of Paphos indicated to the president that a cathedral already existed in the disputed area, so there was no need for a new one.
The president agreed to set up a tripartite commission to investigate the issue of land transferral.
There was no reaction to the latest accusations from the Archbishop Chrysostomos yesterday. He is currently being briefed on the shady business dealings of Limassol Bishop Chrysanthos.
Chrysanthos has been linked to a $3.7 million fraud, in connection with which three people have been arrested in the UK. He left the island two weeks ago, just as detectives from Scotland Yard were about to arrive in Cyprus to question him on his part in the alleged scam. His whereabouts have since been a mystery.
The Archbishop is thought to be under considerable pressure from high- ranking members of the Holy Synod to ask for Chrysanthos' resignation.
The Church, police and Attorney-general are all waiting to question Chrysanthos on his return, but information on when that might be is speculative at best.
Airline executives held their hands up yesterday in recognition of defeat by the pet squirrel, which cost the company £50,000 in lost revenue as flights had to be rescheduled.
The squirrel was smuggled on board by his child owner in Athens on Sunday afternoon, but it seems the pet took a run for freedom when he was let out for some food.
"The boy let it out of the bag when he went to the toilet and it escaped, and we spent the next 24-hours looking for it," said company spokesman Tassos Angeli yesterday.
The Airbus A-320 from Athens was grounded for 24-hours at Larnaca airport while engineers and crew painstakingly searched the aircraft for the evasive bushy-tailed mammal.
In a desperate attempt to flush him out, the airline even contemplated fumigating the plane, but then decided on a more natural method - sprinkling some strategic nuts.
Fears that the sharp-toothed rodent would gnaw away at cables and wiring proved unfounded when the miscreant finally surrendered to his stomach.
However, the debt-ridden carrier has written-off another loss and adopted the squirrel until the owner reclaims it.
"We have urged the boy to come forward and claim his pet. We promise not to be angry with him," said Angeli.
Hassan Hamit, 45, from London was remanded for two days by a Larnaca court after his girlfriend called in the police following a row.
The first time police were called, Hamit had already left the Larnaca apartment, but he returned later to pick up some things and the couple started fighting again.
Police arrived for a second time and the Turkish Cypriot was taken down to the station, along with his luggage.
A search of his possessions uncovered four grammes of cannabis, which Hamit said was for his own use.
Hamit, originally from Pano Lefkara, blamed his girlfriend for ruining his holiday.
The letter, dated July 23 but only publicised yesterday, was sent to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, noting that the unauthorised intrusions were "in contravention of the provisions of the Security Council resolutions in Cyprus, which state that such overflights increase political tension on the island and undermine efforts towards achieving a final settlement."
The aeroplanes entered the northern Nicosia FIR region as part of celebrations in the occupied areas on the 24th anniversary of the Turkish invasion.
The letter gave specific details on the intrusion of the Turkish military aircraft.
Two RF-4 flew over Karpasia and a C-235 flew over the area of Apostolos Andreas before returning to Ankara FIR.
Two C-130s, one C-160 and two G-4s landed at occupied Lefkoniko and Tymbou airports.
Ten NF-5s that had landed at Lefkoniko airport on July 18, provoking an earlier protest by the government, also returned on July 21.
This was the profile of the semi-government organisation presented during yesterday's press conference on the 1997 Annual Report.
EAC Chairman Costas Constantinides said the Authority's financial position was "very satisfying".
The company's operating surplus in 1997 was £21.9 million after taxes. Income from sales of electricity reached £114.8 million, rising 6.2 per cent from 1996.
Constantinides pointed out that the EAC was "in a position to respond effectively to its objective, which is to provide safe, reliable and sufficient energy supply to our consumers at the lowest possible prices."
The Chairman also said the EAC's new oil-fuelled power station at Vassiliko was scheduled to operate late next year.
The EAC currently enjoys a monopoly in electricity supply, but that could change as Cyprus looks to join the EU, meaning all markets would be liberalised.
And Lycourgos Kappas urged people to ignore rumours that the exams - for admission to both the Cyprus University and universities in Greece - had already been marked.
The announcement was made yesterday as the minister left a meeting with the Cyprus University Council and President Glafcos Clerides.
The meeting had been convened to discuss the passing of a law to allow a second vice-Dean at the university.
Kappas said the matter of allowing administrative staff a part in elections for a Dean had also arisen.
Because of complications in both matters, the issue will be referred to a Ministry Council and to the House of Representatives before a final decision is taken.
The Egyptians showed their enthusiasm for joint ventures in a meeting held yesterday between their delegation and Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KEVE) President Vassilis Rologis.
Rologis said both sides had agreed to have more contacts in the future and discussed the possibility of organising a seminar in Cyprus to unite Cypriot and Egyptian businesses.
The KEVE president stated after the meeting that "Egyptian businessmen are strongly interested in making Cyprus their base through which to have access to the European Union."
Police who arrived at the scene established that an explosive device had been placed on the Mazda's rear wheel. The car was completely destroyed.
The Mazda belonged to Russian Vladimir Tarasov, the manager of an offshore company in Limassol.
Tarasov told police he suspected a former employee of his over the attack, the motive being financial differences. But the suspect was questioned, and released after police failed to find any incriminating evidence against him.
The investigation then shifted the focus on Tarasov's spouse, Irina, as the possible target of the attack. A real-estate agent, Irina reportedly had trouble with Russian clients who complained she had swindled them on a deal involving the sale of a villa. Irina told police she had recently been assaulted by two Russians.
Andreas Petrou Mitas, from Ormidia, was also convicted of embezzling tax money while managing the "Mystali" restaurant in Ayia Napa during the years 1992-1994.
When sentencing Mitas, the court considered his age, health problems, his admission of guilt, how long ago the crime had been committed and his present state of bankruptcy.
But the district judge who presided over the proceedings stressed that the need for dissuasion from such crimes also played a part in the sentencing.