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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-02-28

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

From: The Cyprus Mail at <>

February 28, 1999


  • [01] Toxic chemical pollution alert
  • [02] US rights report highlights police abuse and restrictions of movement
  • [03] A step towards censorship?
  • [04] More boat people give up hunger strike
  • [05] 'Shipping gives Cyprus edge for EU accession'
  • [06] Christofias to UK for heart tests
  • [07] Turkish Cypriot businessmen cut off bi-communal ties - paper

  • [01] Toxic chemical pollution alert

    By Martin Hellicar

    EVERY year, thousands of tonnes of hazardous toxic waste are being dumped in unsuitable landfill sites with nothing to stop them seeping out to pollute groundwater, a government official has admitted.

    The careless disposal of noxious waste from hospitals and clinics, laboratories, and paint and chemicals factories also pollutes the soil and atmosphere, Costas Papastavros, of the Agriculture Ministry's environment service, told The Sunday Mail. He said this state of affairs posed a serious risk to human health.

    "One of the most serious unsolved environmental problems we have is that of dangerous and toxic chemicals," the environmental expert said.

    But industrialists said the situation, at least as far as factories were concerned, was not as bad as Papastavros maintained. Local greens, for their part, shared Papastavros's gloomy appraisal of the situation, adding that pollution from toxic waste could cause cancers, damage to the immune system, and infertility.

    Papastavros acknowledged that industry was not the main culprit, but said the problem was very real: "Even if we do not really have heavy industry in Cyprus we do have toxic waste generated from various sources which requires proper management."

    "It's a bloody big problem," was Papastavros's appraisal of the situation as a whole.

    He could not put an exact figure on the amount of such waste produced every year on the island, but said it came to "thousands of tonnes".

    "If this waste is not properly disposed of, we have problems with pollution of ground water, atmosphere and soil and health problems," the government scientist said. "If, for example, waste is incinerated without proper checks, then you have serious atmospheric pollution."

    "At the moment, the situation is totally unmanaged," he warned.

    Though detailed studies have not been carried out, heavy metals and carcinogenic substances are thought to be among the cocktail of hazardous wastes being allowed to contaminate our air, water and soil.

    Most hazardous waste ends up in landfills, along with municipal waste. Such landfills are not sealed, so toxins can seep into the ground to pollute groundwater, surface waters and soils. Nor is there any control of atmospheric emissions from such dumps, so volatile toxins are released freely.

    Papastavros also spoke of widespread "illegal dumping".

    He said the Agriculture Ministry was now, belatedly, beginning to draw up plans for the proper management and disposal of such dangerous waste.

    "We're having various discussions, on various proposals, but we're only just starting," he said. "It should have been done long ago, like so many other (environmental) things..." he added.

    Cyprus will have to tighten up procedures for disposal of such waste if it is to meet requirements for entry to the European Union.

    And it won't come cheap. The cost of implementing a proper management plan for toxic waste disposal, Papastavros estimated, would be "millions of pounds".

    But the scientist said people had to get used to the idea that a pollution- free environment was not something that could be enjoyed for free.

    "If Cypriots think the only thing they have to pay for is tavernas, then they should think again," he said.

    Commenting on the expert's appraisal of the toxic waste situation, a spokesman for the Federation of Employers and Industrialists (Oev) told The Sunday Mail that toxic waste from industry was "basically not a big problem".

    The practice of disposing of waste oil down soak-aways had been stopped and a disposal site for toxic wastes had been set up by the government at Vathia Gonia, he said.

    But Friends of the Earth (FoE) Cyprus said waste was an environmental problem that was often overlooked.

    "Because we don't see all the waste produced on our behalf, it's easy not to think about it," FoE said in a statement.

    The landfill sites that receive most toxic waste in Cyprus is a bÍte noire for FoE.

    "Landfills are the most popular form of disposal because they are cheap. Many landfills contain a lot of liquid because rain enters from the top and because some of the buried waste contains liquid. This liquid reacts with substances in the landfill to generate a toxic fluid called leachate, which can sometimes leak out of the landfill and cause pollution of underground water bodies," FoE said.

    "When leachate contaminates groundwater, the damage is often irreversible."

    The commonplace practice of burning rubbish on landfills creates additional pollution hazards, FoE said. "Smoke and gases emitted when waste is burned can contain pollutants such as dioxins, which even at very low levels may cause harm to the environment and human health."

    The possible health effects of toxic waste contamination were spelled out by FoE: "Hundreds of chlorine-based poisons are building up all over the world in the water, the air, the food chain - therefore in our bodies. The resulting health problems in people and wildlife include infertility, impaired development, immune system damage and cancer."

    FoE said disposal of toxic waste was part of a wider waste management problem. "The responsibility of all governments is to ensure that laws exist which promote the recycling and neutralisation of toxic waste, as well as the use of non-toxic production methods," the green group stated.

    Cyprus has one of the highest per capita waste production rates in Europe.

    February 28, 1999

    [02] US rights report highlights police abuse and restrictions of movement

    By Athena Karsera

    THE US State Department has acknowledged a "generally strong regard for human rights and democratic principals" in both the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish occupied areas, while warning that both sides still had shortcomings to overcome.

    In its annual Cyprus report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, the State Department highlighted the Denktash regime's continued ban on bi-communal activities, its restrictions on the enclaved and "pervasive police abuse of power" in the occupied areas.

    It also drew attention to problems of police brutality in the government- controlled areas.

    The report said the Turkish Cypriot side had eased some of the restrictions on Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the occupied areas, although "significant problems" remained.

    "The treatment of those groups still falls short of Turkish Cypriot obligations under the Vienna III agreement of 1975," the reports said.

    The State Department added that "Unficyp access to Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in north remains limited... (and) there are still no Greek- language educational facilities... beyond the elementary level," forcing parents to send their children to the Republic to further their education, "in which case they may no longer return permanently to the north."

    According to the report, Greek Cypriots continue to complain of vandalism of unused Orthodox churches in the north "and both Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north are unable to change their housing at will." Maronites also lack some public services available in most other Turkish Cypriot areas.

    The report said instances of police brutality had been reported in both communities in 1998, although "in general the police forces of both sides respect the rule of law."

    It did, however, note that, on both sides, "there continue to be instances of police brutality against suspects in detention, mostly involving non- Cypriots."

    The report later referred to the filmed police beating of mostly black African illegal immigrants being held at a Larnaca detention centre.

    The State Department also noted that, "while there were no public allegations of police brutality in the Turkish Cypriot community, there were credible reports of persuasive police abuse of power and routine harsh treatment of detainees."

    The report continued that "suspects are often not permitted to have their lawyers present when testimony is taken," and that suspects who demand a lawyer are "threatened routinely with stiffer charges or even physically intimidated."

    According to the study, a high percentage of convictions in the Turkish Cypriot community "are obtained with confessions made during initial police interrogation under these conditions."

    It also stated that "police on both sides subjected members of the other community resident in their area to harassment and surveillance."

    And the report added that "members of the Turkish bar have complained that civilian judges tend to defer to their military colleagues," during cases involving civilians deemed to have violated military zones, which are subject to trial in a military court. The court consists of one military and two civilian judges and a civilian prosecutor.

    The US report noted that the December 1997 Turkish Cypriot ban on bicommunal contacts on Cyprus had halted the continuation of thousands of successful previous contacts.

    "Turkish Cypriot authorities also attempted to interfere with some bicommunal events taking place outside Cyprus by prohibiting civil servants from participating."

    On social issues, the State Department study said that spousal abuse in the government-controlled areas had received greater attention in 1998.

    The report said an organisation formed to address the problem of domestic abuse had reported 689 cases until November 1998, compared with 922 cases in 1997 and that a shelter for battered women had been opened in late 1998.

    The report noted that their was little public discussion of domestic violence in the Turkish Cypriot community, although such violence was believed to be common. It added that a women's shelter had been opened there in 1994.

    Changes in social legislation were also reported: "Greek Cypriot women married to foreign husbands were for the first time given the right to transmit citizenship to their children automatically." Before the December 1998 legislation, the women were required to apply for Cypriot citizenship for their children.

    Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot women were last year for the first time legally allowed to marry non-Muslim men.

    The report said that disabled people did not appear to be discriminated against in education or the provision of state services on either side.

    Reporting on the labour front, trade unions on both sides "freely and regularly take stands on issues that affect workers," according to the report.

    On the economy, the report said the Republic had "a robust, service- oriented economy, with a declining manufacturing base and a small agricultural sector." The report noted that tourism and trade generated 22 per cent of the gross domestic profit in 1998 and employed 27 per cent of the labour force.

    In contrast, the Turkish Cypriot economy, "handicapped significantly by an economic embargo by the Greek Cypriots", relies on subsidies from Turkey while being burdened by "an overly large public sector."

    February 28, 1999

    [03] A step towards censorship?

    By Anthony O. Miller

    A PHILOSOPHICAL turf war is stirring in Cyprus, whose outcome will shape freedom for the island's electronic media.

    On one side is Alecos Evangelou, bluff former Justice Minister, powerhouse lawyer and current chairman of the seven-member Broadcasting Authority.

    Two men guard the other: Andreas Mavrommatis, twice UN ambassador and an internationally famed human rights jurist; and Andreas Kanaouros, chairman of the Union of Cyprus Journalists.

    Somewhere in between are the House of Representatives and a law it passed in January 1998, setting up the Broadcasting Authority.

    Besides setting criteria for getting television or radio licenses, that law provides for the Broadcasting Authority to get a set of regulations for governing TV and radio activities.

    A draft of those regulations is now before the House. If approved, they would arm the Authority with rules of conduct, and sanctions - including jail - for TV and radio reporters or owners the Authority deems in breach of them. And they will also determine what can be seen or heard over the island's air waves.

    Perhaps it's his ministerial past, his personality, or these and a seashore of sand-grains more, but Evangelou sees no free-speech problems in linking the Broadcast Authority to these proposed regulations and sanctions.

    "The Authority will act as a quasi-judicial organ... to investigate for disciplinary procedure private radio and television (stations)... either on its own, or on the basis of a complaint" by a third person, he said. It will apply a code of conduct in the regulations before the House that are "99 per cent the same" as the Ethics Code of the Journalists Union, he said.

    "But that (Journalists Union) code is only self-regulatory," he sniffed, whereas the Authority would be backed by the State. "If somebody is in breach of the regulations, he has to face the consequences of the law," he intoned.

    Sanctions for licensing violations include warnings, fines, suspension or revocation of a license. "Infringements of the law may also constitute a criminal offence. And these carry severe penalties, including imprisonment up to a maximum of three years," he added.

    If the House approves the draft regulations and their code, TV and radio reporters, anchors and station owners will all be liable to this full range of penalties.

    In Evangelou's view, "If you are a journalist with a camera, you have to follow rules, because otherwise you cannot be a journalist holding a camera. The rules have been included in these (draft) regulations... pursuant to the law."

    The proposed "rules" would bar airing close-up shots of dead bodies or seriously injured persons on TV. They would also bar "aggressive, pressing, misleading or insulting" TV or radio questioning at a news event.

    The ambiguity of "close-up" could cause problems (how close is close?). Likewise, "aggressive and pressing." What is responsible probing to some, could be "pushy" conduct to others - especially if they have something to hide. (No professional journalist asks "misleading or insulting" questions.)

    The rules would also - and properly - require "sensitive" reporting of violence against children, women or the elderly. But their bans against hidden cameras or recorders, and recording phone conversations could curtail broadcast journalism's freedom.

    By its very nature, a radio call-in talk show, for instance, records phone conversations. And crimes or other misdeeds worthy of exposure in the public interest might, by definition, require the use of hidden cameras.

    Additionally, the House-tabled regulations seek to restrict even the very language allowable on the air, proscribing words or phrases that might in any way "offend the sensitivities of religious, racial, political or other social groups."

    While stories alleging massive fraud by the ex-Bishop of Limassol might have offended the sensitivities of some ranking Church prelates or some the faithful, sanitising that reportage - for fear of Broadcasting Authority sanctions - would hardly have been responsible journalism or in the public interest.

    Regardless, insisted Evangelou: "They are journalists working in this area, and since there is a law regulating this, they have to comply with the law."

    Asked if such rules were tantamount to prior censorship of the electronic media, Evangelou replied: "No," then added: "I know all these tendencies... the self-regulation and all this," in the newspaper industry. "We are not talking about journalists of newspapers. We are talking about TV," he said.

    "We are not following self-regulation," he continued. "There are two divergences of opinion, but in Cyprus we don't follow self-regulation insofar as radio and television are concerned.

    "Insofar as newspapers are concerned, that's another thing. I am not involved in that," he said. "But regarding the radio and television Authority, in our constitution there is a distinction between newspapers, radio and television and the cinematograph."

    Such thinking is anathema to both Mavrommatis and Kanaouros. They prefer the self-regulation of the Journalists Union that is heresy to Evangelou, to the official governmental oversight and sanctions he appears champing at the bit to enforce.

    "We strongly support a code of conduct with self-regulation, self-control" for TV and radio, Kanaouros said. "We insist on self-regulation" in newspapers, "and we are trying to persuade Parliament not to "grant the Broadcasting Authority the power to police the electronic media with the force of law, he said.

    "If they (the House) connect a code of conduct and sanctions with the law, it is a dangerous step for sure," Kanaouros said. "In principle, we say: 'Don't do it.' ... This is our opinion, our position. We are clear on this, and I hope they will still respond to this."

    "I helped them to draft the Journalist's Code," Mavrommatis said. "It's enforced by all interested parties - namely the Journalists' Union, the association of publishers, and all owners of electronic media - at least the bigger ones."

    "It was signed by all of them, and it's based on the modern approach of self-regulation, to which the whole of the democratic world that respects human rights has subscribed to," he said. "It's a step backwards... (to allow) sanctions, penalisation" of the electronic media by the Broadcasting Authority, Mavrommatis said.

    "You have a clash of competences," he said, with the Journalism Union using self-regulation to police the print media, while a government-created Broadcasting Authority seeks the force of law to police and punish the electronic media.

    "Let's say the same matter was reported in the print media, with pictures, but also in the electronic media. The matter comes before the one committee, and it says there are no violations. While the other says there is a violation of the code - and the codes are similar," Mavrommatis illustrated.

    "It's not fair to have two separate sets of rules... one based on self- regulation and informal - not based on legislation; and the other one more formal and based on legislation," he said.

    "The least we should do is to have some sort of provision which will enable this clash of competences to be dissolved," he said. "We're going to try to resolve this and... see the people of the radio and television authority, and talk about it," he said, adding he hoped to meet with Evangelou sometime in March.

    Mavrommatis said he thought the Broadcasting Authority should "either restrict itself to matters such as licensing and leave out the code of conduct, or, if they did have a code of conduct, they should not have subscribed to... any sanctions."

    "They put the clock back by imposing sanctions. It should be self-regulated without any sanctions. This is the only way, I believe, to comply fully with the modern approaches to the freedom of expression," he said. "Self regulation is the modern way."

    This, he said, means "it is not the government who should appoint people to the committees; only those immediately interested should appoint the people who apply the code" - as with the Journalists Union, he said.

    While it is "the government's right" to license electronic media and penalise violations of licence laws, "the journalistic code of ethics is a different matter," Mavrommatis said.

    "This should be based exclusively on self-regulation. And self-regulation means these people are entirely independent. There should be no penal sanctions in respect of violations.

    "In certain countries - in France, for instance - they think that any form of regulation - even self-regulation - is an effort to gag the press."

    So, while the Broadcasting Authority's power grab "does not violate any provision of the (European Union's) aquis communautaire," he said, "it would look much better if everything was based on self-regulation without penalisation."

    "And remember, if something is extremely serious, then there is criminal libel, or civil libel. So this is why I do not think it is necessary" to empower the Broadcasting Authority. "It's putting the clock backwards."

    February 28, 1999

    [04] More boat people give up hunger strike

    THE NUMBER of boat people on hunger-strike in the Pefkos Hotel has dwindled from 10 to three since the new UNHCR Head of Liaison, Sharon Bernard, pledged to visit the 24 illegal immigrants at the hotel on Monday, one of them said yesterday.

    Nihad Hage said by phone from the Limassol hotel that he had been able to persuade seven of the 10 hunger-strikers to end their protest fast after talking with Bernard, but that three of the fasters were holding out.

    "They do not believe in promises of anybody," Hage said. "They want to see a paper proving we are going to get freedom."

    The 10 began fasting on Tuesday, the same day they faxed a letter to the Ministries of Justice and Interior thanking the government for saving their lives last summer, but protesting against continued life under virtual house arrest since then.

    Told of their hunger-strike, Bernard phoned them, said she would visit on Monday, and assured them she was urgently sending to Geneva appeals of the rejection of their refugee status applications by officers of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who visited Cyprus last year to screen the boat people.

    The 24 were among 113 illegal immigrants rescued by a Cyprus naval patrol last June, sick and starving, from a Syrian-registered trawler off the Cyprus coast.

    In December, 23 of the Pefkos residents - 10 Bangladeshis and 13 Kurds - won refugee status from the government on UNHCR recommendation.

    Apart from them and the Pefkos 24, most of the original 113 boat people have been deported. It is not known how many others from the boat remain in police custody.

    February 28, 1999

    [05] 'Shipping gives Cyprus edge for EU accession'

    PRESIDENT Glafcos Clerides said yesterday that Cyprus' achievements in the maritime sector had given the island high credibility in the international shipping community.

    Speaking at the tenth Annual General meeting of the Cyprus Shipping Council, Clerides added that shipping had also given Cyprus an advantage in its efforts for EU accession.

    "Our main aim is to restore the image of our flag with the upgrading of our fleet's safety standards, and we will continue to work on the implementation of the measures set by the International Maritime Organisation," Clerides said.

    He added that the department of Merchant Shipping would be strengthened with four more marine surveyors, that the network of inspectors would be expanded and that the process of computerising all the ships' safety records would continue.

    The previously-coveted Cyprus flag has lost its popularity in recent years, after poorly-maintained ships made Cyprus-flagged vessels the target of harbour inspections.

    Ships on call at international ports are inspected and any that are deemed to be sub-standard detained.

    Statistics are then compiled and analysed and if a specific flag has more than a certain percentage of detained ships it is considered to be sub- standard.

    Ships flying these flags are then targeted for inspection, causing unnecessary delays for ship owners with quality ships.

    February 28, 1999

    [06] Christofias to UK for heart tests

    AKEL general secretary Demetris Christofias will this afternoon be travelling to the UK for heart tests.

    Akel announced yesterday that the tests were necessary before a planned kidney transplant.

    Christofias, 52, suffers from chronic kidney failure; he further damaged his kidneys during treatment for bronchial pneumonia last December.

    One of Christofias' sisters will be donating a kidney.

    He will be accompanied by his wife Elsie and heart specialist Dr Michalis Minas.

    Christofias will be returning to Cyprus next Sunday.

    February 28, 1999

    [07] Turkish Cypriot businessmen cut off bi-communal ties - paper

    TURKISH Cypriot businessmen are cutting off ties with their Greek Cypriot colleagues in retaliation over the Ocalan affair, it was reported yesterday.

    The move follows the announcement in Istanbul last week by businessman Rahmi Koc, chairman of the Turkish-Greek Business Council, that his group would cancel all trade ties with Greece. Koc is also involved in US envoy Richard Holbrooke's Brussels group initiative for business contacts between Greece, Turkey and the two sides in Cyprus.

    CyBC yesterday quoted the Hurriyet Kibris newspaper as reporting the Turkish Cypriot businessmen had decided to fall in line with their mainland colleagues.

    According to the newspaper, Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur Gunay Egez said businessmen would be meeting in the north this week to further discuss the issue.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999

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