Thousands of Turkish Cypriot public workers went on strike last Tuesday to protest against a package of austerity measures prepared by Turkey, whose financial help is essential for the breakaway Turkish republic in Cyprus.
Some 38,000 public employees joined the one-day strike, which followed a decision by the government last week to go ahead with the tight package to revive the ailing Turkish Cypriot economy, according to the 15 trade unions and non-governmental groups that organized the strike.
The strikers represented 95 percent of the public employees who are members of those unions.
Turkey is the only country to recognize the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Each year Ankara allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to the TRNC, whose economy has been crippled by a long-standing international embargo.
The strike disrupted public transport, airplane flights and ferry services. Doctors in public hospitals were available only for urgent cases, while police had to step up security around prisons, where guards also went on strike.
In the meantime, nearly 15,000 people held a demonstration in the Turkish sector of Nicosia, shouting slogans against Ankara's intervention and calling for the resignation of the government and TRNC President Rauf Denktash. Security forces had taken heavy security measures at the square where the crowds gathered, but did not intervene.
The TRNC government agreed to implement the austerity package after it failed to pay public employees' salaries earlier this month when Ankara refused to send funds to the TRNC unless the package was put into force. The package includes tax hikes, an end to the recruitment of new public workers and the abolition of periodic, inflation-linked salary hikes.
The strike came two months after thousands of Turkish Cypriot victims of a banking scandal broke into parliament and briefly took TRNC Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu hostage to protest at the government's failure to pay them previously promised compensation.
The Turkish and Turkish Cypriot press have accused Eroglu's government of corruption and of misusing Ankara's funds for its own political ends.
Cyprus has been divided into a Turkish north and Greek south since 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the island with Greece. — (AFP, Ankara)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)