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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-01-21

Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Cyprus Mail at <>

Thursday, January 21, 1999


  • [01] Missiles spark opening shots in Cyprus budget debate
  • [02] Israeli suspects deny amended spying charge
  • [03] Kyprianou urges Clerides to refuse dinner invitation
  • [04] Government ready to close Philoxenia
  • [05] Government insists it will go ahead with health pledge
  • [06] Hunger strike earns boat people visit from UNHCR representative

  • [01] Missiles spark opening shots in Cyprus budget debate

    By Jean Christou and Martin Hellicar

    PARTY leaders used yesterday's opening of the three-day budget debate at the House of Representatives to trade barbs on the Russian S-300 missile saga.

    The five-hour opening session leads the way to 20 hours of debate today and tomorrow, with a final vote expected at around 10pm tomorrow night.

    The first party leader to speak was Disy leader Nicos Anastassiades who said the S-300 issue had not militarised the Cyprus problem as government opponents had claimed, but rather had put the political question on the international agenda.

    Anastassiades defended President Clerides' decision in December to cancel the deployment of the missiles after international pressure to do so.

    Communist Akel deputy Andreas Christou, who spoke on behalf of partly leader Demetris Christofias who is ill, said Clerides' missile policy had been "a total and unmitigated disaster."

    "If this happened in any other country the government would have resigned," he said.

    Criticism was also levelled by Socialist Edek leader Vassos Lyssarides who pulled his party, which held two ministerial posts, education and defence, out of the government in the wake of the missile fiasco.

    Lyssarides said the non-deployment of the missiles would have painful consequences for Cyprus. "It creates the preconditions for greater demands from Turkey towards Cyprus and Greece," he said.

    Former president George Vassiliou, leader of junior coalition partners United Democrats and also chief EU negotiator, said that if the government had brought the missiles the island's EU accession talks would almost certainly have been derailed. "I am convinced the decision to bring the missiles would have led us out of Europe," he said.

    Centre-right Diko parliamentary spokesman Tassos Papadopoulos said the missile decision had damaged the government's credibility, but the veteran deputy stuck mainly to economic issues.

    Papadopoulos said that even though Diko would be voting for the budget this stance was in no way a sign of the party's approval of the government socio- economic policies.

    Akel's Christou launched an attack on the government's plans for privatisation. He said the government was selling off the "people's industries".

    "The state has to intervene when market forces act against the interests of poorer sections of society," he said, adding that Akel would work against those provisions in the budget which did not agree with its own socio- economic policy.

    Anastassiades said Disy would not allow the selling off of state property to big capital "as claimed by some". "There are ways, and ways towards liberalisation and privatisation," he said.

    The debate proper opens at 10am today. Disy kicks off with six hours and fifteen minutes, Akel with six hours, Diko has four hours and fifteen minutes, Edek has three hours and the United Democrats have fifteen minutes.

    Majority support is expected. Voting is on simple majority among the House's 56 deputies. Disy, Diko and the United Democrats have all said they will vote for the budgets. But Diko, along with Akel and Edek is also likely to ask for some amendments.

    This year's budget provides for a deficit of 580 million, five per cent more than last year. Expenditure is set at 1.68 billion with revenues projected at 1.1 billion.

    Thursday, January 21, 1999

    [02] Israeli suspects deny amended spying charge

    By Charlie Charalambous

    THE TRIAL of two Israeli spying suspects got under way in Larnaca yesterday, with the prosecution once again changing the charge sheet to make the accusations more general.

    Prosecution lawyer George Papaioannou told the court the first charge relating to conspiracy was too specific, and requested that references to collecting information on "military facilities" be dropped.

    "Conspiracy as an offence does not have to relate to a specific action. We are not in a position to know what information they were collecting and why, " Papaioannou told the criminal court.

    He argued that the two accused, Igal Damary, 49, and Udi Hargov, 37, may not have known themselves what they were looking for, so it was not up to the prosecution to second guess their activities.

    Removing the reference to Cyprus military facilities would better reflect the evidence that the prosecution would produce, Papaioannou argued.

    "It is understood that the nature of spying means that if you spy on someone you do not know what you will find, otherwise if you knew you wouldn't be spying," Papaioannou said.

    Understanding that a more general conspiracy charge would be easier to prove, the defence objected to the request.

    Defence lawyer Andis Triantafyllides pointed out that the second charge of spying specifically accused the two Israelis of collecting information on military facilities.

    "It is not right to be accused with specific spying charges, and then to say they came to do something else as well," said Triantafyllides, one of three Cypriot defence lawyers.

    After a brief recess, criminal court president George Arestis decided to allow the new conspiracy charge to stand, saying it did not radically alter the charge sheet.

    "We feel that by changing the charges, the defence will not be put at a disadvantage or prejudiced in any way. The words relating to military installations will be withdrawn," said judge Arestis.

    The new conspiracy charge was then read out as follows:

    "At an unknown time between October 15 and November 6 in Cyprus and in Israel you conspired to spy against the Cyprus Republic with the intent to harm its interests and conspired to collect information which could be useful to another country."

    Both Hargov and Damary pleaded not guilty to the new charge as they had done last month to charges of spying, conspiracy to spy and possessing illegal listening devices.

    During yesterday's hearing, they appeared relaxed and unfazed by the latest developments.

    Hargov was quite happy to chew gum during the proceedings and Damary was seen fiddling with his newly-acquired set of worry beads.

    At the start of yesterday's two-hour proceedings, Papaioannou read out the facts of the case and then submitted 23 prosecution exhibits as evidence.

    The exhibits submitted as evidence, almost all found in the Zygi flat where the two were arrested on November 7, 1998, included three scanners, eight maps of Cyprus, a lap-top computer, two mobile phones, two transformers, four cassette recorders, a pair of headphones and four diskettes.

    Police said they found the high-tech electronic equipment tuned into police frequencies when they arrested the two Israelis.

    Triantafyllides said two experts from Israel would arrive on the island today to study the evidence and give their opinion.

    Hargov and Damary will remain in custody until the court reconvenes on January 26.

    Thursday, January 21, 1999

    [03] Kyprianou urges Clerides to refuse dinner invitation

    By Martin Hellicar

    IF PRESIDENT Clerides goes to dinner at the British High Commission tomorrow, he will be accepting a lesser status for the government in settlement talks, House president Spyros Kyprianou warned yesterday.

    Clerides is invited to a dinner at the Nicosia home of British High Commissioner David Madden, a social event which will also be attended by Britain's special envoy to Cyprus, Sir David Hannay - who is expected on the island today.

    Kyprianou said the fact that Sir David was not meeting with Clerides at the Presidential Palace but only during the dinner was a "serious development."

    The dinner was not a social event but a forum for serious Cyprus problem talks, Kyprianou added. "If this were not the case, then party leaders would have been invited too," he said.

    There were two possible explanations for this "unusual" arrangement, the Diko leader said, unravelling his latest conspiracy theory.

    The first possibility was that "the British" had decided to shift the venue for all their official contacts to the High Commissioner's residence. The second, and more likely, explanation was that Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash had done a deal with "the British" whereby Sir David stayed away from the Presidential Palace in exchange for Denktash agreeing to meet with him, Kyprianou said.

    The Turkish Cypriot leader's aim in striking this "deal" was to undermine the status of the government in settlement talks, Kyprianou said.

    Denktash has refused to meet Sir David during his recent visits, but has reportedly agreed to see him this time round.

    This change in Denktash's stance proved his conspiracy theory, the House president said. "As his condition is being met, Denktash has accepted a meeting with Sir David Hannay," Kyprianou said.

    Clerides had to demand a visit from Sir David at the Presidential Palace, he stated.

    "If this does not happen we have to think carefully about what we do next. If it does not happen we must make it clear to everyone that we are not wet behind the ears.

    "Certain parties have to stop underestimating the intelligence of the Cypriot people," he said.

    If he were President, he would boycott the High Commission dinner, the former President said.

    In response, government spokesman Christos Stylianides stated the government had no cause to doubt Britain's recognition of Clerides' government as the only legitimate one on the island.

    "The government considers and insists that this meeting, this invitation, of the President to a dinner at the home of the British High Commissioner does not create any problems concerning recognition of the Cyprus republic on the part of the British government," Stylianides said.

    Thursday, January 21, 1999

    [04] Government ready to close Philoxenia

    By Anthony O. Miller

    THE COUNCIL of Ministers has decided to cease being hoteliers and close the Philoxenia Hotel if, by March 31, the government tender process fails to find a company willing to renovate and operate it, Commerce Minister Nicos Rolandis said yesterday.

    The Council's hand was forced by the House of Representatives, which legislated against either the Cabinet or the House selling shares in the government-owned hotel, Rolandis said.

    While the House approved transferring the Philoxenia to a limited company, "they stopped us from transferring the shares," precluding a share offering in the stock market, he said.

    "We decided (yesterday), in the light of this decision by the House of Representatives, that we cannot convert ourselves, ad infinitum, into hoteliers. We cannot continue the operation of the hotel," Rolandis said.

    He said the Council asked him, "with a time limit of March," to seek tenders "for a BOT - build, operate and transfer - arrangement," similar to the Dhekelia desalination plant's.

    If a renovator/operator can be found - renovation is estimated to cost 2 million - to run the hotel for 10-15 years, "the hotel will come back to us after... and we can repeat the same exercise, with either the same people or another company," he explained.

    "If we cannot find any interested party, the operation of the hotel will cease, and we shall seek to find some other use for the premises," he said. "Some government services might move into it, like one of the ministries," since the government is now leasing building space for some of its ministries.

    For the House to preclude privatising the Philoxenia "is a wider message, because this particular question is not a very big one, but the message concerning privatisation from this legislation is not very positive," Rolandis said.

    "If we think that we shall accede to the European Union, and we are employing these practices, we shall not make it," he added.

    One government source, who declined to be identified, called "puzzling" the predicament the House has placed the government and the Philoxenia in: It would appear that "Cyprus is moving towards Europe, and the House is moving towards the (old) Soviet Union," the source told the Cyprus Mail.

    Rolandis said his ministry would prepare the tenders "very soon" and that "bids should happen in the next few months, because at the end of March, the hotel will have to stop operating.

    "It's a loss-making operation at the moment, at a rate of something like 90,000 per quarter," he said. "We shall either make an arrangement on a private financing arrangement basis, PFI of BOT, or it will cease to operate."

    He noted the Philoxenia has 44 employees, and "we shall care for them," whatever happens to the threadbare hotel. While the government "cannot oblige" a new operator to keep them, Rolandis said he believed that any new operator "will keep a good part of the staff."

    Thursday, January 21, 1999

    [05] Government insists it will go ahead with health pledge

    By Martin Hellicar

    THE GOVERNMENT is to forge ahead with introducing a new national health care system, despite objections from its social partners, Health Minister Christos Solomis stated yesterday.

    The long-delayed revamp of the country's free health care system was the main item on the agenda for yesterday morning's cabinet meeting.

    After the meeting, Solomis said talks with unions and employers would continue, but the government was determined to send a relevant bill to the House next month.

    "The position of the cabinet and the President today is that all procedures must continue but the bill will definitely be sent before the House in February," the minister said.

    The new system, first proposed by the Vassiliou government more than six years ago, would involve employers and workers contributing about half of the cost for a free health plan that would include private doctor as well as hospital treatment.

    Solomis said the cost of the first stage of implementation would come to 187 million, or nine per cent of the gross national wage bill.

    The government wants employers to contribute 2.55 per cent and workers 2 per cent.

    Unions want employees' contributions to be set at the 1.5 per cent mark.

    The minister said implementation of the new plan was a matter of urgent necessity, as the current system was a huge drain on state coffers. "I know of one patient alone who cost 2.5 million to the state," he said.

    But he acknowledged that introduction of the new system would involve radical changes that would "rock" the country.

    "This is a completely new way of dealing with medical treatment, which cannot be put in place in the next few months."

    He said two to five years was a reasonable time-frame for introduction.

    Thursday, January 21, 1999

    [06] Hunger strike earns boat people visit from UNHCR representative

    By Anthony O. Miller

    THIRTEEN boat people in police custody in Paralimni staged a brief hunger strike yesterday to dramatise their demand for a visit by the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR worker Fredy Galatopoulou said.

    "They wanted the UN. Once they saw that I was here, they resumed eating," Galatopoulou told the Cyprus Mail. She added she was in the process of interviewing 23 of the 30 boat people who pitched up in Cyprus on January 13, but declined to say more.

    The hunger strike pressure for a UNHCR visit was seen as the likely result of police activity aimed at deporting some of the 23 - most are Arabs from the Middle East or Africa - who have documentation on them indicating their countries of origin.

    "Some of them, as I heard, have travel dowments. According to these documents, we can deport them to their country of origin," Andreas Philippides, acting director of the Interior Ministry, said yesterday. "That deportation order (issued last week by the Immigration Police) is still in force," he added.

    Ayia Napa police, who have jurisdiction over the 23 boat people, were baffled by the hunger-strike, according to the chief investigating officer, who would only identify himself as "PC1228, Demetris."

    He said he had no hint any of the immigrants were disgruntled enough to stage a fast. He said they had been eating, drinking and smoking normally on Tuesday, the last day he'd seen them.

    Officer Demetris said he was "trying to finish the case now," so the 23 could return to court today in Larnaca. "The court will decide about (deportation), probably (today)," he said.

    Philippides said he did not know why the 23 needed to return to court to be deported, as "there is no necessity for a new deportation order; the one that was issued (last week) is still in force."

    Officer Demetris suggested the 30th illegal immigrant who was still at large after landing with the 29, who were quickly apprehended, is suspected of being a "leader" of the 30. "He knows the way. He's leading them, probably," he said.

    Reports have indicated that the boat that brought the 30 illegal immigrants to Cyprus at night on January 13 is docked in Turkish-occupied Famagusta. Officer Demetris could not confirm this.

    Police last week attempted to send the migrants back to Lebanon, from which it is understood they set sail, but the Beirut authorities barred access to the Cyprus police launch ferrying them back. Lebanon did, however, accept to take back six Egyptians who had valid entry papers for the country.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999

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