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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey's prime minister called on Greek Cypriots Thursday to fix their "'mistake" of legislating the schoolroom commemoration of a 1950 referendum that called for Cyprus' union with Greece if stalled talks to reunify the ethnically split island are going to move forward.
Binali Yildirim said Greek Cypriots believe they're "the sole owners" of the island and should accept breakaway Turkish Cypriots as equal partners in an aimed-for federation.
"This attitude that aims to skew the truth clearly cannot move the negotiations forward," Yildirim said after talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
The 1950 vote in which more than 95 percent of the majority Greek Cypriots had voted in favor of union with Greece preceded a four-year armed guerrilla campaign against British colonial rule before Cyprus was granted independence in 1960.
Greek Cypriot officials said the commemoration would involve the brief reference and discussion of the vote that is seen as a significant milestone in the island's history. They added that the commemoration is not intended to be an indication of a policy shift away from the stated aim of a federated Cyprus.
But the legislation rankled with Turkish Cypriots because they consider the Greek Cypriot drive for union with Greece to be the root cause of the island's post-independence woes. The fact that the legislation was proposed by the far right ELAM party stoked Turkish Cypriot anger further.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Nicos Anastasiades, the island's Greek Cypriot president, called the legislation "aimless and unnecessary" since the referendum has already been taught as part of the school curriculum.
In a joint statement, Greek Cypriot political parties condemned what they called the legislation's "deliberate distortion" by Turkish Cypriots to suggest a policy shift away from a federated Cyprus, something they said "hasn't been raised and will never be raised."
Anastasiades criticized Akinci for using the legislation as an "excuse" to walk out of the 22 months-long peace talks because Turkish demands to keep troops and military intervention rights in place even after reunification weren't gaining any traction.
Anastasiades attributed Akinci's actions to the Turkish government's hardening stance to appease right-wing voters ahead of the country's April 16 referendum on expanding presidential powers.
Yildirim is scheduled to address a rally later in support of a 'yes' vote in the Turkish referendum. Turkish officials have said some 100,000 voters in Cyprus' breakaway north are eligible to vote.
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