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Cyprus Talks Derailed

Sept. 9 -- Citing a "lack of common ground," Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash declined to attend a new round of UN-sponsored proximity talks on the future of Cyprus. The talks were scheduled to begin in New York on September 12th. The President of Cyprus, Glafco Clerides, had indicated that he would attend.

The last round of talks ended abruptly ten months ago when the Turkish delegation walked out. Denktash has demanded international recognition of his breakaway state, as well as a halting of Cyprus' accession to the European Union.

Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou, on an official visit to Cyprus, was heckled by student protesters as he attempted to enter the Presidential palace to meet with Clerides. The protesters were angry over Papandreou's friendship policy towards Turkey, and in particular to the warm relations between Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem.

During a recent meeting on the island of Samos, Papandreou expressed his goodwill by performing a traditional Greek zeibekiko in front of an applauding Cem. The move generated criticism in both Greece and Cyprus.  

Journalists at a September 5th press conference asked Papandreou if he also planned to dance a zeibekiko with Denktash, should progress be reached on the Cyprus issue. But the foreign minister defended his policy, arguing that better relations between Greece and Turkey undermine Denktash's often repeated claim that the two peoples cannot coexist peacefully.

PASOK Rebounds after Summer Doldrums

Prime Minister Simitis, enjoying a rebound in the polls following a summer of political infighting and declining public support, announced an ambitious social spending package that would channel billions of euros -- much of it from aid programs provided by the European Union -- into higher pensions, expanded welfare, and a program to boost birthrates by rewarding parents with a million drachmas on the birth of their third child.

Only a month ago, Simitis seemed in possible danger of losing his job, faced with public opposition to social security reform as well as a threatened mutiny from rank and file PASOK members angry about the Prime Minister's middle-of-the-road policies. Simitis has espoused globalization-era reform and strengthening the economy while still maintaining Greece's welfare state.

In recent weeks, the fractious party has closed ranks, spurred in part by a controversy over the removal of religious affiliation from government-issued ID cards.

The PASOK government, citing European Union policies, decided that the ID cards would no longer identify religious affiliation. The move was welcomed by Greece's Catholics, Muslims and other minorities, but derided by a large section of the predominantly Greek Orthodox population.

However, Archbishop Christodoulos' efforts to force a referendum on the issue backfired, garnering only lukewarm public support and provoking a show of strength from President Constantine Stephanopoulos.

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