A POLITICAL explosion reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall is shaking Cyprus. It has the potential to overcome the tragic division of the island's people along ethnic lines-Turks in a state in the north, Greeks in the south. It could also challenge Greece and Turkey, which, along with former colonial power Britain, have fostered those divisions.
Some 30,000 Turkish Cypriots demonstrated on Boxing Day against the corrupt rule of Rauf Denktash. The official 1991 census put the total population of Northern Cyprus at 198,215. So the demonstrations are equivalent to over nine million marching in Britain. Hatred of Denktash is driving the movement. He has presided over declining living standards relative to Southern Cyprus and has blocked moves towards unification.
The newly elected Turkish government also wants Denktash to go because his intransigence is an obstacle to Turkey's entry to the EU. United Nations general secretary Kofi Annan has come up with a peace process for Cyprus, which would lead to a federation of the two states. It would enshrine the division.
But the prospect of ending the conflict has inspired a far more radical movement in the north than simply calls to back the UN and EU. Demonstrators have changed the words of a pop song to describe the Green Line, which marks the division of the island, as 'prison bars'. There have been militant marches in the south against the British military bases, which would be vital to any attack on Iraq.
The Turkish military, which plays a central role in politics, is desperate not to lose influence in Northern Cyprus. It has reinforced its garrison of 35,000 troops. The movement in the north, together with opposition in Greece and Turkey, to Bush's war drive, could ignite an upsurge across the eastern Mediterranean.