NICOSIA, Cyprus — European Union member states have rejected Turkey's demand that its citizens be granted the freedom to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to EU member Cyprus under any deal reunifying the ethnically divided island, the Cypriot president said Saturday.
Nicos Anastasiades said all EU leaders consider it a "bad precedent" for Cyprus or any other country to breach bloc rules and grant such key freedoms to third-country citizens.
"This matter concerns the whole of the European Union, not just Cyprus," Anastasiades said.
Turkey said in January that any Cyprus peace deal should incorporate such a condition. But Greek Cypriot officials fear such a development would enable Turkey to overwhelm the small island of 1.1 million people economically, demographically or otherwise.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of uniting Cyprus with Greece. Although the island joined the EU in 2004, only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.
Turkey's demand further complicated difficult negotiations that stalled last month amid Turkish Cypriot anger over legislation to commemorate in Greek Cypriot schools a 1950 referendum calling for Cyprus' union with Greece.
Turkish Cypriots see a drive by the majority Greek Cypriots for union with Greece that began before Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960 as the root of all the island's problems. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and top Turkish officials have said that Greek Cypriots needed to fix this "mistake" if talks are to move forward.
Anastasiades said the "aimless" legislation in no way suggested any policy shift away from reunifying Cyprus as a federation. He criticized Akinci for using the matter as an "excuse" to walk out of the 22 months-long peace talks because Turkish demands to keep troops and military intervention rights in place even after reunification weren't gaining any traction.
Anastasiades attributed Akinci's actions to the Turkish government's hardening stance to appease right-wing voters before the country's April 16 referendum on expanding presidential powers.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said that EU leaders have conveyed the belief that any movement in Cyprus peace talks won't happen before the Turkish referendum is completed.
Menelaos Hadjicostis, The Associated Press