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What are you playing at, Mr Brown?

embargoedLondon based human rights group Embargoed! and other British Turkish Cypriot groups have criticised British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for agreeing to meet with Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias on 11 November – the start of the Orams hearing at the Court of Appeal. The case, where a British couple (the Orams) are being sued by a Greek Cypriot, has huge significance for both Cyprus and tens of thousands of British citizens. The groups have written to the Prime Minister asking for the meeting with Mr Christofias to be cancelled and are urging the British Government to act with more sensitivity on the issue.

Embargoed! chair Fevzi Hussein said, “To say we are disappointed with Gordon Brown is an understatement. Just what does the British PM think he is playing at by meeting Mr Christofias on the first day of the Orams hearing? It smacks of political interference by the Greek Cypriot side and sends out all the wrong messages. Mr Hussein continued, “Time and again we see the hypocrisy of the Greek Cypriot side. They are happy to develop on Turkish Cypriot property in the South, such as the land on which Larnaca and Paphos airports are built on, yet they bully anyone seeking to invest in North Cyprus. The case against the Orams is yet another example”.

Greek Cypriot plaintiff Meletis Apostolides is suing the British couple for acquiring and developing land in North Cyprus he formerly owned and was forced to leave in 1974. Mr Apostolides wants the Orams’ house demolished and compensation paid. As he cannot enforce this decision in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), Mr. Apostolides wants it enforced in the UK where the Orams have another property. On 28 April 2009, a panel of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) headed by a Greek judge ruled in favour of the plaintiff. The ECJ judgment must now be applied throughout the European Union, including the UK. However, EU States can opt out of the ruling on reasons of ‘public policy’.

Many commentators including Embargoed! have raised concerns before that such law suits are polarising the two sides in Cyprus and the Orams case could ‘open the floodgates’ for tens of thousands of other British owners of property in Cyprus to face similar legal action. The UK has the largest Cypriot Diaspora, as well as thousands of other Britons that have bought property on both sides of the island. There are currently over 1,400 Greek Cypriots cases pending before the European Courts, while only 10 Turkish Cypriots have launched law suits to date as the TRNC authorities have traditionally frowned upon individuals taking a piecemeal legal approach,

Cetin Ramadan, the UK head of the Association of Turkish Cypriots Abroad (ATCA) said, “The British Government and the EU should be very aware that Turkish Cypriots aren’t going to roll over and allow people to lay claim to either their UK or TRNC homes. We have suffered enough through this conflict and we are ready to fight for our rights. If Mr Brown and the other EU leaders want to help Cyprus, then they need to avoid actions that suggest they support one camp over the other. Both sides have suffered, both have rights and needs, and it’s about time Europe recognised that.

ATCA, Embargoed! and other British Turkish Cypriot associations will be holding a small vigil outside the High Court on Thursday 12 November. The groups will be offering moral support to the Orams couple, as well as highlighting the rights of Turkish Cypriots and other property owners in North Cyprus.

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