Glafcos Clerides, former president of Cyprus, dies at 94


Cyprus’s president Glafcos Clerides in 2000. (Laurent Gillieron/AP)
November 15, 2013

Glafcos Clerides, the former Cypriot president who dedicated most of his 50 years in politics to trying to reunify the ethnically split island and guided it to European Union membership, died Nov. 15 at a clinic in the capital city Nicosia. He was 94.

The death was confirmed by Joseph Kasios, Mr. Clerides’s personal physician. He did not disclose the cause.

Mr. Clerides, the fourth president of Cyprus, was widely respected for deftly navigating the Mediterranean island’s often treacherous politics over a half-
century, although he was never able to reunify the island.

After losing in two presidential elections, in 1983 and 1988, Mr. Clerides won the office in 1993 and a second five-year term in 1998. During that time, he ushered Cyprus into the European Union, despite the division.

The island was split into an internationally recognized, Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north after a 1974 invasion by Turkey, a reaction to a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

The Cyprus problem was Mr. Clerides’s passion, and in 2003, he unsuccessfully sought reelection for a limited third term to continue handling delicate reunification negotiations. He lost to Tassos Papadopoulos, who accused Mr. Clerides of giving too much away during reunification talks.

Mr. Clerides supported a U.N. reunification plan, which was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots and approved by Turkish Cypriots in separate referenda in April 2004.

Despite his ouster, he remained steadfast in his support for the U.N. plan, whose rejection he warned would mean “burying the land of our fathers.”

Mr. Clerides was born in Nicosia on April 24, 1919. During World War II, he was among an estimated 30,000 Cypriot volunteers who fought for the Allies. He served as a gunner and wireless operator in the British air force, and his aircraft was shot down over Germany in 1942. He spent the rest of the war as prisoner and was foiled in two escape attempts.

Mr. Clerides was a member of the underground nationalist movement EOKA, which waged a guerrilla campaign against British colonial rule between 1955 and 1959.

As a lawyer, Mr. Clerides defended suspected fighters in court. Sometimes Mr. Clerides was up against Rauf Denktash, a prosecutor who later became the Turkish Cypriot leader.

The two battled it out in court in the 1950s, developing mutual respect. Their relationship was friendly — Mr. Clerides drove into the Turkish sector in 1964 to drive Denktash’s family to the airport — but failed to translate into anything at the negotiating table.

“If I had someone else instead of Denktash, the Cyprus problem would have been solved long ago,” Mr. Clerides once said.

Mr. Clerides was involved in the negotiations that led to the island’s independence from Britain in 1960 and was elected as the first speaker of Parliament, a position he held until 1976.

When his father, Ioannis Clerides, was a candidate in the country’s first presidential election, Mr. Clerides broke ranks and instead supported Archbishop Makarios, who won.

As speaker, Mr. Clerides temporarily assumed the duties of president in the turmoil that followed the coup and Turkish invasion. When Makarios returned in late 1974, Mr. Clerides stepped down and did not hold political office again until winning the presidency in 1993.

Despite his successful handling of Cyprus’s E.U. course, Mr. Clerides’s presidency was not trouble-free.

Late in his first term, a major crisis erupted when Cyprus decided to deploy a long-range antiaircraft missile system as part of a program to bolster the island’s defenses. Turkey threatened a military strike.

The missiles ended up in the southern Greek island of Crete, and Mr. Clerides shouldered the responsibility alone amid accusations of playing on defense issues to win votes.

Mr. Clerides’s wife, Lila-Irene, died in 2007. Survivors include a daughter, Kate, a member of Parliament.

— Associated Press

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