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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-12-03

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

From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>


CONTENTS

  • [01] Stock Exchange to close again
  • [02] Tests ‘show high toxicity in villagers’ blood’
  • [03] It’s ‘all or nothing ’ in NY talks
  • [04] Clerides hopes the will exists for a solution
  • [05] UN report says Varosha’s status violated by supermarket
  • [06] UN checks report of shot fired
  • [07] ‘I don’t want to be Acting President’
  • [08] Hasikos in defence talks with Russians
  • [09] Man held after straying into the north
  • [10] Minister and ports chief in stormy spat
  • [11] Deadly key-ring guns found after tip-off
  • [12] MP condemns opening of welfare office for Pontians
  • [13] Two more remanded in Co-op embezzlement case
  • [14] Drugs suspect remanded again
  • [15] Unions threaten strike over CoLA plan
  • [16] EU ‘to give clear signal on unconditional accession’

  • [01] Stock Exchange to close again

    By Hamza Hendawi

    WHAT A DAY the Cyprus Stock Exchange had yesterday. A shock announcement said it will close for three days next week, share prices fell for the third day running, and the Central Bank boss renewed his war against those chasing a fast buck on the bourse.

    And as if that was not enough to qualify for a bad day, the exchange said it was suspending the licence of Citi Principal Investments Ltd, a Nicosia-based brokerage, for what it called its failure to meet monetary obligations.

    But it was not all negative news yesterday.

    The Bank of Cyprus, the island's largest financial institution with a market capital of more than £3 billion, said its operating profits for the first nine months of 1999 reached £81.6 million, a massive increase of 77 per cent over the same period last year.

    It also said that its much-heralded listing on the Athens Stock Exchange, a prospect that has kept investors' interest in the share red hot, would take a significant step forward in the last two weeks of this month when all relevant documents would be handed over to the Greek bourse.

    Also on the good news front, the Co-operative movement announced yesterday that it was finally ready to take the plunge and go public.

    Chairman Erotocritos Khloratiotis told a news conference that the movement planned to merge into one public company in the first six months of 2000 and offer £25 million shares to the public when it receives approval to list.

    The movement, widely believed to have been hit hard by a flight of deposits to commercial banks offering stock market-related services and products, has a more immediate plan to set up an investment company. The public is invited to apply between January 10 and 28 for shares in the company through an IPO worth £20 million, Khloratiotis said.

    The Co-ops have earned a solid reputation over the years of being the working man's favourite banks, and the decision to go public and float would certainly inject new blood into a market that suffers a dearth of new titles and restructure and streamline the movement to give commercial banks much stiffer competition.

    Alpha Bank, meanwhile, announced yesterday that it was setting up its own investment company with immediate effect, but no further details were immediately available. The bank is part of Greece's Alpha Credit Bank Group and is known to harbour ambitious plans to expand its share of the market, about five per cent at present. It has already acquired an insurance company. Yesterday's Cyprus Stock Exchange statement said there would no trading on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week to allow for the instalment of a new settlement system. The system has been under discussion for some time between representatives of the brokers and the exchange, and is designed to simplify and speed up the processing of transactions.

    The decision to close the market -- it has shut previously on three separate occasions since late July -- drew an angry reaction from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Keve). It said it opposed the decision and argued that the closure would hurt investor confidence and scare away foreign investors.

    The decision to close the market is likely to compound the woes of the exchange which, beside the three past shutdowns, has been beset by a host of administrative and technical problems and a prolonged and increasingly bitter war between its management and the 22 accredited brokerages.

    Central Bank Governor Afxentis Afxentiou, meanwhile, fired a fresh salvo yesterday at those he said were seeking a quick profit on the stock exchange. He said he had sent a fresh memo to commercial banks to tighten credit facilities for market investment purposes until further notice.

    Afxentiou, who sees no conflict of interest in his ownership of market shares worth tens of thousand of pounds, said his memo was designed to reduce demand on shares and thus help bring their prices down.

    "The Central Bank is the guardian of financial stability and the currency of Cyprus, and the stock market influences those areas," said Afxentiou.

    "We believe that 95 per cent of the activity in the market is aimed at making a fast profit," he declared.

    The all-share index yesterday fell 1.26 per cent to 833.03 on a volume of £30.01 million. More than 20 listed companies remained out and one brokerage, Marketrends, was suspended for delaying the processing of transactions.

    The listed companies are out through suspension or voluntary withdrawal in order to update their register and rectify erroneous share deeds resulting from the boom months of the summer.

    [02] Tests show high toxicity in villagers blood

    By Anthony O. Miller

    ERGATES residents have five times the cadmium and two-and-a-half-times the lead in their blood that Nicosia residents have, according to blood tests done in Britain, Dr Michalis Voniatis said yesterday.

    For this reason, he said, "it is criminal" to allow the Marios &amp; Eleni foundry in Ergates to continue operating at current air-pollution levels.

    "They shouldn't allow the foundry to operate (with a smoke particulate emission level of) more than 50mg per cubic metre of air," Voniatis said. "It should stop functioning until it is assured that it will function at that level. Otherwise, I think it is criminal to allow its operation."

    He based his charge on blood samples taken on October 25 from 45 Ergates residents and 17 Nicosia residents. They were analysed at Charing Cross University Hospital Laboratory.

    "The levels of lead are 2.5 times higher in Ergates than in Nicosia. And cadmium levels in Ergates are 5 times higher than in Nicosia," Voniatis said.

    He said the test results showed 62.2 per cent of Ergates residents and 23.5 per cent of Nicosia residents have blood-lead levels above the World Health Organisation critical level.

    Lead and cadmium are highly toxic heavy metals that can cause many forms of cancer, organ and neurological diseases.

    The situation is so bad, Voniatis said, that "two people from Ergates have already reached more than the allowed higher limits of cadmium in their blood. And at least one child has a level of lead in his blood which is above the 50-microgram per litre level, which is the upper limit of safety."

    "If this situation continues, in the next five to 10 years, most of the people (in Ergates) will come up with cancers, kidney problems, anaemia and leukaemia and neurological problems," he said.

    The villagers acute respiratory problems will also get worse if the foundry emissions continue at current levels, Voniatis added.

    "I think it is criminal to allow things to continue like this," in the face of several studies that "show the pollution springs from the (Marios &amp; Eleni) foundry... The nearest house is 500 metres away."

    An earlier study by Voniatis showed 33 per cent of the children in Ergates suffer from chronic respiratory problems associated with the foundry smoke.

    That study also blamed the foundry for a rate of brain, kidney and pancreas cancer in Ergates nearly three times the Cyprus average, a lung cancer rate 50 per cent above the national average, and a leukaemia rate twice the average.

    Voniatis agreed with claims by a Health Ministry doctor, who requested anonymity, that dioxin is a pollutant in the Ergates foundry's smoke. He said he did not test for dioxin because this is difficult and expensive.

    But he said the foundry melts down old car engines and uses recycled engine oil as the fuel for its furnaces. The Health Ministry doctor said that when metals are burned in the presence of oil, dioxin results.

    Dioxin is one of the deadliest substances known to man. It causes all types of cancers, birth defects, and is passed down through the generations.

    Labour Minister Andreas Moushouttas has had Attorney-general Alecos Markides file a criminal lawsuit against the Marios &amp; Eleni foundry for allegedly exceeding the state smoke particulate emission limit of 300mg per cubic metre of air.

    But Markides declined to seek an an injunction to halt all work at the foundry until the criminal case is heard, because under the threat of that injunction the foundry modified its chimneys to emit only 230mg of particulate per cubic metre of air.

    Moushouttas was unavailable for comment on Voniatis' latest test data yesterday, and acting Labour Ministry Permanent Secretary Doros Ioannou said it was a Health Ministry problem.

    "We look at these figures, and like everybody else, we see that there is some problem," Ioannou said. "How big the problem is and whether something should be done immediately is up to the Ministry of Health."

    Ioannou became dismissive when reminded that some years ago the House removed industrial pollution and its effects on health from the Health Ministry's brief and gave it to Labour, and that therefore he was passing the buck nowhere.

    Health Minister Frixos Savvides has acknowleged he is powerless, because of this deal between the unions, the House of Representatives and the Labour Ministry, to order the closure of either the foundry in Ergates or the Nemitsas foundry in Zakaki for causing pollution deemed to be dangerous to health.

    As to Voniatis' charge that it is "criminal" to let the Marios &amp; Eleni foundry run at any levels above 50mg of particulate emission per cubic metre, Ioannou said: "I have an opinion. I don't want to express it."

    "As far as these things are concerned, the Ministry of Labour does not comment," he added.

    [03] Its all or nothing in NY talks

    THE NEW York proximity talks kicking off today are to be an all or nothing affair, the UN Secretary General's special adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, said yesterday.

    "Nothing will be agreed upon until everything is agreed upon," de Soto, who is to lead the settlement negotiations, said in the New York, Reuters news agency reported.

    He added that the media blackout imposed by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan was necessary because premature revelation of a tentative agreement might jeopardise an overall package.

    De Soto repeated that talks would be substantive and added that President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash would be asked to remain in New York until December 15, although talks might not last that long.

    De Soto also said that US Cyprus envoy Alfred Moses was expected to hand Annan a letter from US President Bill Clinton later yesterday.

    De Soto did not say what this letter would be about, but the US is one of a number of countries eager to see progress towards a Cyprus settlement.

    [04] Clerides hopes the will exists for a solution

    By Jean Christou

    PRESIDENT Glafcos Clerides yesterday expressed the hope that the Turkish Cypriot side will exhibit the political will for a solution to the Cyprus problem at when the proximity talks begin in New York today.

    Speaking on his arrival in the US, Clerides pledged that the Greek Cypriots would make full use of the current international interest in the Cyprus issue.

    "The Secretary-general has invited the two sides to start proximity talks without preconditions, based on UN resolutions, and after they examine the fundamental aspects of the Cyprus problem to start direct talks," he said. "We hope the other side will come with the same political will to solve the Cyprus problem."

    Clerides declined to comment on statements made by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in Istanbul on Wednesday before his departure for New York.

    Denktash called on the Greek Cypriot side to freeze its application to the EU and said that establishing the status of the two sides should top the agenda of the talks.

    When asked to comment on this, Clerides cited the news blackout requested by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan. He urged journalists not to draw hasty conclusions and called for patience.

    Clerides had meetings with top international envoys for Cyprus before heading into today's talks with Annan.

    The UN has said the schedule for the talks will be open-ended and that they could go on for a week or more, depending on the two leaders and whether or not there is progress.

    The Secretary-general plans to devote as much time to the talks as possible and his representative Alvaro de Soto will be fully engaged in the process.

    The main purpose of the talks is to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations which could lead to a settlement. However they are not what either side really wants.

    The Greek Cypriot side had been hoping for direct talks without preconditions from the beginning, while the Turkish Cypriot side wanted to go to the negotiating table after its status had been established. Denktash also did not want substantive discussions, but the international community is insisting on this.

    [05] UN report says Varoshas status violated by supermarket

    By Jean Christou

    THE TURKISH side has opened a supermarket in the fenced area of Varosha, violating the status quo, the UN Secretary-general's latest report on Cyprus reveals.

    Covering the period from June 10 to November 29, the report by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan said that Unficyp had continued to monitor the fenced-off area abandoned by Greek Cypriots in 1974.

    "Some alterations of the status quo, including the construction and opening of a supermarket, the repositioning of a fence to increase the area used for public access to the beach, and minor modifications to existing properties, were observed," the report said.

    It adds that the UN holds the government of Turkey responsible for the maintenance of the status quo in Varosha.

    During a visit to the island last week, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou suggested the Turkish side hand back Varosha as a goodwill gesture, but Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash dismissed the idea.

    He repeated his position on Wednesday before leaving for todays proximity talks in New York.

    Responding to questions over Greek Cypriot claims to the abandoned town, Denktash said: "Varosha is under our sovereignty. They should recognise our sovereignty first."

    In his report Annan said that during the period under review the situation along the ceasefire line remained stable despite numerous provocative incidents, particularly in Nicosia where the sides are in close proximity.

    At Athienou UN soldiers found what appeared to be the setting up of an unauthorised military post at a local house. After raising the matter with the National Guard activities at the house ceased.

    The report also noted that crossings by Greek Cypriot boats of the Maritime Security Line (MSL), the seaward extension of the buffer zone, increased significantly during the summer period despite Unficyp's warnings. "These crossings are provocative vis-à-vis the Turkish forces, and on occasion cause them to fire warning shots," it said.

    On the enclaved, the report said that this year the delivery of school books was delayed "because the Turkish Cypriot authorities objected to the books on political grounds."

    On November 17, only 60 out of 120 books were distributed at the schools.

    The Secretary-general also commented on the lack of progress on the issue of missing persons. He said while there had been exchanges of views, the two sides did not resolve their differences.

    "It is to be hoped that the two sides will assess the implications of this situation with due urgency and seriousness with a view to overcoming the stalemate on this humanitarian issue."

    Concluding, the report recommended renewing the six-monthly Unficyp mandate for a further six months.

    [06] UN checks report of shot fired

    THE TURKISH occupying forces are claiming a shot was fired at one of their Dhekelia area sentry posts from the government-controlled side at around midday yesterday.

    Unficyp spokeswoman Sarah Russell said the UN was investigating the alleged incident, which was reported to them by the Turkish side yesterday afternoon.

    Unficyp officers were shown a pock-mark and a spent bullet at a Turkish guard post bordering the British base, she said.

    A spokesman for the National Guard said he knew of no such incident.

    The Turkish Cypriot news agency TAK reported that a single shot had been fired from a National Guard sentry post at a Turkish post near occupied Famagusta. There had been no injuries and no return of fire, TAK said.

    The occupation regime's foreign ministry has protested to the UN over the incident and demanded increased security along the ceasefire line, TAK added.

    There are no National Guard sentry posts along the line between the Dhekelia base and the occupied areas, but there are several on either side of the British base area.

    [07] I dont want to be Acting President

    SPYROS Kyprianou came out of hospital yesterday to announce that he does not want to be acting President while Glafcos Clerides attends the New York proximity talks.

    The House president made it clear this had nothing to do with his state of health and everything to do with his opinion of how Clerides was handling the Cyprus problem.

    "Given my total disagreement on Cyprus problem developments, I felt that perhaps it was not right to be acting President, and I offered not to take up these duties if a way out could be found," a vigorous-looking Kyprianou said.

    He said he had asked Attorney-General Alecos Markides to see if there was any way he could be relieved of his duties as acting President. "Unfortunately, the Attorney-general could not find such a formula," the veteran Diko leader said.

    Kyprianou had been in hospital for the past ten days, after suffering an asthma attack.

    His doctor, Costas Zambartas, said he had advised Kyprianou to perform his temporary Presidential duties from the comfort of his home.

    From his hospital bed earlier in the week, Kyprianou charged that Athens and Nicosia had struck a secret behind-the-scenes deal to allow Turkey to become an EU candidate state.

    He declined to expound on this allegation yesterday.

    [08] Hasikos in defence talks with Russians

    By George Psyllides

    DEFENCE Minister Socratis Hasikos yesterday began a four-day visit to Moscow at the invitation of his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeyev.

    During the visit, Hasikos will renew a co-operation protocol between Cyprus and Russia which has existed since 1996.

    "It is our obligation not only to maintain these relations but to strengthen them through various agreements we have with Russia," Hasikos said yesterday. He declined to disclose the protocol's contents.

    The Minister also denied media reports that said he would visit Russian defence industries and discuss weapons issues in Moscow. "Reporters write whatever they want," Hasikos said. "The ministry cannot intervene to specify what reporters write in their newspapers."

    He agreed that the Turkish annual Toros exercise was subdued this year because of the good climate in the relations between Greece and Turkey.

    But he expressed reservations as to whether these good relations will continue.

    "I do not want to be the bearer of bad news, but it seems that the good climate has an expiry date. Developments in the New York talks and the European summit in Helsinki will show whether this improved climate will be maintained," Hasikos said.

    Meanwhile, Greek Air Force Chief Demetris Lintserakos yesterday visited the Army Command in Nicosia, and was briefed on Cyprus' operational capabilities by National Guard Chief Demetrios Demou.

    Lintserakos said the controversial Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile system bought by Cyprus but installed in Crete "is useful for Cyprus' defence, and if needed it will be used for sure".

    The S-300 missile has a range of 150km. Crete is more than 550km from Cyprus.

    "Greek air force planes can fully cover the operational needs of Cyprus," he added.

    [09] Man held after straying into the north

    A COURT in the north has remanded a Greek Cypriot man for two days after he took a wrong turn near the village of Lymbia and crossed into the occupied areas.

    Agryris Roussou, 65, from Aglandja in Nicosia, was detained by the Turkish Cypriots on Tuesday after he took a wrong turn on his way home from work.

    The incident was not reported to the United Nations by the Turkish Cypriot side until Wednesday afternoon.

    Unficyp spokeswoman Sarah Russell said yesterday that Roussou had been visited by a UN medical team early in the morning and was found to be in good health.

    [10] Minister and ports chief in stormy spat

    By Martin Hellicar

    A SIMMERING spat between Communications Minister Averof Neophytou and Ports Authority chief Dinos Erotokritou degenerated into open confrontation yesterday.

    Neophytou issued a written statement calling on Erotokritou to resign after the Ports Authority chairman suggested there were "ulterior motives" for the minister's earlier attacks.

    The showdown between the two men, both members of governing Disy, was sparked by Erotokritou's opposition to state plans to sell off some Ports Authority assets.

    According to reports, things came to a head during a Disy party meeting on Tuesday night. Neophytou apparently called on Erotokritou to resign if he did not support government plans for the authority he heads.

    On Wednesday, Neophytou confirmed these reports by publicly calling on Erotokritou to quit. "If I was in Mr Erotokritou's position... I would submit my resignation," the minister said.

    Erotokritou broke his silence yesterday, suggesting there were "ulterior motives" behind the minister's insistence that he resign.

    He said that as far as Neophytou was concerned. "up to a few days ago Erotokritou was fine. This is not the first time that Erotokritou's positions have been made clear; for this reason I believe there are ulterior motives for what is going on now."

    He also accused the minister of acting in a dictatorial manner.

    "The minister's position is: You guys were appointed by the state and for this reason you must obey what the state says, otherwise you have no business being in your positions. I disagree with this policy: I am a person with my own opinions, and this is not the first time I have disagreed with what a minister has proposed," Erotokritou said.

    "I have every right to express my opinion," he insisted. But he added that he would implement government plans to sell off Ports Authority assets despite his opposition to them.

    He would not resign, however.

    Neophytou issued a written statement in response to Erotokritou's statements. The minister suggested Erotokritou's reference to "ulterior motives" made his position untenable.

    "When Mr Erotokritou speaks of ulterior motives -- which is a serious accusation -- he in essence refers to government policy and the government as a whole," Neophytou's statement read. "Since he believes that government policy has ulterior motives, for what reason does he stubbornly insist that he remain in the position of Port Authority chairman, serving this policy?"

    [11] Deadly key-ring guns found after tip-off

    By George Psyllides

    POLICE yesterday found two more key-ring guns in a hotel car-park in Limassol. They were found in a cigarette packet after a tip-off.

    Another key-ring gun was found on a Pontian Greek arrested by police in Nicosia last month.

    The miniature guns are the eighth and ninth found by police worldwide.

    Police say that the weapons have chambers for two 32-calibre bullets and that they can kill at up to 20 yards.

    The guns are around three inches long and as wide as a matchbox and can reportedly be bought for as little as $20.

    Airport security worldwide had been warned by Interpol to be vigilant because the tiny weapon, although made of metal, cannot be spotted by metal detectors which make it ideal for terrorists and hijackers, police said.

    The first of the pistols, called The Wasp was seized at Londons Heathrow Airport in 1998 when a passenger dropped it and fled. Since then others have been found in Australia and Athens.

    The gun, believed to originate in Bulgaria, contains a grip, firing and locking buttons and two barrels. It is cocked by pulling the ring to which keys are attached, and its range can be increased by using a barrel attachment.

    Police in Australia discovered an instructions booklet in Bulgarian with the weapon they seized last year.

    The booklet claimed the gun was a defensive weapon designed to fire gas cartridges to deter attackers, and that it was not designed to fire proper bullets.

    [12] MP condemns opening of welfare office for Pontians

    By Phanis Droushiotis

    OPENING a welfare office for "illiterate" Pontian Greeks near where they live in Paphos is rubber-stamping the area as a ghetto, according to outspoken Diko deputy Nicos Pittokopitis.

    He was referring to the opening this week of a welfare office for Pontians who now live in the town.

    The aim of the office is to address the social, financial and health problems of the thousands of Pontian families who live there. It should be able to address problems "on the spot", the Welfare Department said.

    But Pittokopitis believes that by opening an office for Pontians the government is officialising the area where they live as a ghetto.

    On its first day more than 50 Pontians visited the new welfare office seeking solutions to their various complaints and other problems, but the branch is staffed by only two people.

    But Pittokopitis, openly critical of the increasing number of Pontians living in Paphos, said opening the office was not a way to solve their problems, although he said it might help in the short term.

    "The registration of all Pontian families has fallen behind schedule and the opening of a branch (of the Welfare Department) will not solve the vivid problems of the minority," he told the Cyprus Mail.

    "More than 5,000 Pontians live in Paphos, most of them are illiterate, but at the same time they are occupying jobs that should have been taken by unemployed Cypriots."

    He said the government is deliberately hiding this information "for reasons I cannot imagine".

    But Omiris Poursanides, the Pontians representative in Paphos, expressed the gratitude of his community to the government. He said it is in line with agreements reached in the past with the Greek government for Pontians.

    Welfare officers manning the branch said Pontian families visiting them mainly ask for arrangements regarding their children's school transport, medical expenses, and other problems such as unemployment benefit.

    It has been estimated that the cost of running the new Welfare branch will be more than £20,000 a year, excluding the rent of the building and other overheads.

    [13] Two more remanded in Co-op embezzlement case

    A CLUB owner and a businessman from Limassol were yesterday remanded in custody in connection with the embezzlement of more than £4.4 million from the Polemidia branch of the Co-operative Bank.

    The Limassol branch's general cashier, Kyriacos Kyriacou, 35, and its accounts and computer chief, Petros Petrou, 29, are already being held on suspicion of embezzling £4,405,000 of bank funds.

    Police investigating one of the biggest embezzlement scams ever uncovered on the island yesterday arrested club owner Andreas Andreades, 53, and businessman Panicos Argyrou (whose age police did not know).

    Andreades and Argyrou, both account holders at the Polemidia branch, were later brought before Limassol District Court and remanded for eight days.

    Police say the two men had, between them, been overdrawn at the Polemidia branch to the tune of £1.5 million. The court heard yesterday that these massive overdrafts had been arranged with the help of Petrou and Kyriacou.

    The police inquiry was launched after a complaint from Polemidia Co-operative bank chairman Costas Thoma.

    Thoma said an internal audit had showed that Kyriacou and Petrou, both of whom had worked at the bank for 10 years, pocketed more than £4 million by making false entries in their own and other customers' accounts. Police say the two bank employees also forged documents and authorised illicit payments to cover their tracks. The funds were allegedly embezzled between December 1998 and November 26 this year.

    The Limassol District Court has heard that the scam was uncovered after Petrou's unexplained absence from work between November 15 and 18.

    The court also heard that the pair had sent a letter to the co-op board on November 19, admitting to taking the money. Three days later, they returned £1.5 million of the embezzled amount to the board, the court heard.

    Police do not yet know where the stolen money ended up.

    [14] Drugs suspect remanded again

    A NICOSIA man was yesterday remanded in custody for a further five days after being arrested at Larnaca Airport last week, allegedly with more than 10 kilos of cannabis in his possession.

    Andronikos Andronikou, 23, from Latsia, in the Nicosia district, was arrested after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam.

    Police say he had become a suspect because of his regular trips to Amsterdam. Investigating officer Marios Xenofontos told the court that police had found an important document in Andronikou s house, containing the name of an individual they believe to be involved in the case.

    They have been searching for this person for the past four days, he said.

    [15] Unions threaten strike over CoLA plan

    LEFT-WING unions are threatening to stage a two-hour warning strike in protest at government plans to change the way the Cost of Living Allowance (CoLA) is calculated.

    Unions Peo, Deok, Oelmek, Etyk, Poas and Seas plan the strike action for sometime this month. The strike date has not been decided yet.

    Deok general secretary Diomides Diomedou yesterday warned strike action would be escalated in the new year if the government did not back down.

    The unions believe the government proposal that increases in indirect taxation not be included when computing CoLA is the first step in an effort to scrap CoLA.

    Finance Minister Takis Klerides -- who is trying to push VAT increases through the House -- has said the proposed new system is fair.

    The unions decided on the strike action during a joint conference on Wednesday night.

    The Chamber of Commerce, Keve, yesterday issued a statement condemning the unions' strike threat. The unions should consider the "wider interests of the economy" and accept the government proposal, Keve suggested.

    [16] EU to give clear signal on unconditional accession

    By Hamza Hendawi

    THE MID-DECEMBER European Union summit in Helsinki may give the clearest signal to date by the EU that the island's membership of the 15-nation group will not be conditional on a settlement of its long-running problem, a top Nicosia-based diplomat said yesterday.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the notion of a final break of a binding link between Cyprus' EU accession and an end to its 25-year-old division will be confirmed in Helsinki. He also warned against expecting a clear-cut declaration on the matter from the December 10-11 Helsinki summit, however.

    "But it will be very obvious to anyone who reads carefully," said the envoy, who stressed that any mention of Cyprus' accession will remain, as has been in the case on past occasions, accompanied by an expression of the EU's wish to admit a unified Cyprus into the fold.

    Alluding to occasional remarks by senior officials from EU member states that the Union must not allow a divided Cyprus to join, the diplomat warned against reading too much into them or taking them on face value, saying that only the EU's prevailing collective view mattered.

    "This (that Cyprus accession must not be conditional on a settlement) had been known from the time the decision was taken to take Cyprus on board. It is politically irreversible," he said.

    Cyprus and five East European countries, known as the fast-track six, began accession negotiations with the European Union in March 1998. The forthcoming Helsinki summit is expected to add six other European nations to the fast-track group and, barring a Greek veto, grant Turkey a formal candidate status.

    The start of the government's accession negotiations with the EU led Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to harden his position considerably on a future settlement of the Cyprus problem.

    He has repeatedly called on the government to freeze the negotiations, arguing that Turkey must first become a member. He has also spurned repeated attempts by President Glafcos Clerides and the EU to persuade him to join the talks.

    Referring to the island's harmonisation process, the Nicosia-based diplomat said: "I am one of those who are firmly convinced that Cyprus is the best pupil in the class, but I would also like to see things going ahead in a speedy fashion.

    "We have now reached a stage where the harmonisation process can be put on autopilot, and 2003 remains a reasonable target date for Cyprus membership."

    The diplomat's remarks followed an announcement late last month of a 100-million-euro loan by the European Investment Bank to the Cyprus Electricity Authority for the extension of the Vassiliko power plant east of Limassol.

    The extension in question will be designed in 2000 and construction will commence a year later and be complete in 2004.

    "Many objected to extending so much money to Cyprus, but we know that Cyprus can absorb this money," said the diplomat.

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