By Elias Hazou
ARCHBISHOP Chrysostomos has denounced the violence committed by ELAM last week, and has moreover called on the Attorney-general to explore whether there were grounds for stripping the ultra-nationalist outfit of its party status.
Speaking over the weekend, the prelate lamented the incidents taking place in Limassol last Wednesday, when some 70 members of ELAM stormed a Cyprus problem talk, attended among others by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. The ELAM protesters engaged in scuffles with police, assaulted a Turkish Cypriot journalist and hurled a flare inside the venue.
Chrysostomos urged the Attorney-general to get tough on extremist groups.
“If in fact they do not meet the criteria for being a party, he must strip them of this capacity,” he said.
The Archbishop moreover revealed that on Saturday he phoned Talat to convey his sympathy; this was later confirmed by Talat himself.
According to Talat, Chrysostomos told him: “It is not acceptable that you should be subjected to such an attack while you were there to express your views on the Cyprus problem and the future of the country. This situation is not commensurate with hospitality.”
The head of the Church also conveyed to Talat his concerns that such incidents against officials of the breakaway regime might negatively impact relations between the two communities.
Given Chrysostomos’ prior track record in regards to ELAM, as well as his apparent transformation from hawk to dove on the Cyprus peace process, his current outlook has come as a surprise to many.
In the past, the top cleric had admitted to sharing a lot of ELAM’s views, particularly on illegal immigration. He once described ELAM as “good lads, who have crystal-clear views,” but denied supporting them, financially or otherwise.
Founded in 2008, ELAM was approved as a legal political party in May 2011. Prior to its official formation, the group existed under the name “Golden Dawn: Cypriot Kernel.” It attempted to register as a political party with the same name, but the name was rejected by the state’s authorities, resulting in the use of the name ELAM as an alternative.
Meanwhile in the wake of last week’s incident in Limassol, Attorney-general Costas Clerides confirmed that his office would be investigating whether ELAM’s operation “complies with the law and the constitution.”
It was not entirely clear whether the AG was looking into merely banning ELAM as a party or outlawing it as an organisation altogether; however the former option is likelier, as seeking to criminalise the outfit would present a far more formidable proposition. Clerides fended off criticism that he was soft on extremist groups.
Opposition party AKEL has been calling on the AG to prosecute ELAM on the grounds that it is conducting illegal military exercises. Clerides says so far there is no hard evidence to corroborate this.
Regarding the three ELAM members who were released from custody last Thursday, after a court found the police did not make a convincing case for the suspects’ continued detention, Clerides said that the dossier on last week’s events in Limassol is not closed.
Going on television a day after the violence, ELAM’s political leader Christos Christou tried to justify the episode by arguing that they were provoked by the presence there of Talat.
Christou alleged ELAM has information that Talat is a war criminal. He claimed that Talat was involved in the killing and/or torturing of Greek Cypriots in Kyrenia during the summer of 1974.
Talat promptly quashed the allegations, calling them “vile lies.” In a live interview with Astra radio on Saturday, the former Turkish Cypriot leader said he was not even in Cyprus during the time in question.
In reality, Talat said, he was in Ankara at the time and did not return to the island until 1977. Throwing down the gauntlet at his accusers, he added that he was willing to be tried in a Greek Cypriot court.