North Cyprus head stands firm in row over Turkey criticism

Nicosia (AFP) –


The leader of breakaway northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, stood firm in the face of calls to resign on Monday after criticising Turkey's military offensive in Syria.

Akinci, president of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, took the rare step over the weekend of criticising Turkey, the only country that recognises the TRNC.

"Even if we call it 'Peace Spring', it is blood that is spilling and not water," he wrote on Facebook, referring to the codename of the Turkish military operation against Kurdish-held northeast Syria launched last Wednesday.

He also called for "dialogue and diplomacy".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded on Sunday that the Turkish Cypriot leader had "totally overstepped his bounds".

Erdogan warned: "At the given time, we will deliver an appropriate response."

Akinci's opponents in northern Nicosia called an extraordinary session of parliament Monday to press for his resignation, saying he had damaged ties with the country's only patron.

But Akinci rejected the complaints as "unjust", although he sought to nuance his remarks on Facebook.

"It is our common desire that Turkey gets rid of the scourge of terrorism that it has suffered a lot," he said in a statement.

"However, I believe that it's time for the war... on Syrian soil to come to an end," he added.

Undaunted, Akinci asked: "Since when has defending peace become a crime?" And he added that the divided Mediterranean island's Turkish Cypriots were not dependent on Ankara's patronage.

"Turkey has done more than anyone to support the Turkish Cypriot people and state. However, Turkish Cypriots have reached their current position through their own great struggles," he said.

The republic was created after Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, and it has remained divided.

Akinci also said that Turkey, which still maintains 30,000-40,000 troops in the TRNC, should focus on improving its relations with the European Union, which has condemned the Turkish offensive in Syria.

The Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus in the south, a country which Ankara does not recognise, is an EU member.