A new protocol on financial support for the north from Turkey was branded a ‘betrayal’ and ‘surrender’ to Ankara by Turkish Cypriot labour unions on Tuesday as a discussion in ‘parliament’ saw tensions rise.

EU spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker also criticised the provisions of the protocol, saying they appeared to restrict freedom of expression. “The use of criminal law as a tool to exert pressure on critical voices is unacceptable,” he said.

A provision about media provides for fines up to five years in jail for insulting Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar or Turkey

The 53-page protocol, which was published on Friday in the ‘official gazette’, was met with strong reactions in the north as it is expected to further restrict the freedoms of Turkish Cypriots. It was signed over a month earlier, on April 14.

Under the protocol, there are reforms and ‘laws’ concerning the economy but also provisions that are not related to finances such as changes to the right to assemble and demonstrate and the monitoring of all communication platforms to tackle misinformation.

“What does all this have to do with the economy and the budget,” asked head of the Republican Turkish Party Tufan Erhurman in ‘parliament’.

Against the cooperation protocol, Erhurman clashed with transport ‘minister’ Erhan Arıkli who said “these reforms will be carried out one way or another”. The People’s Party, which decided last week to withdraw from ‘parliament’, did not participate in Tuesday’s session.

Erhuman said Faiz Sucuoglu, who signed the protocol, is no longer the ‘prime minister’ and they refuse to accept as legitimate “a structure that is the product of intervention”.

He said the protocol may refer to a revenue stream of 4.25 billion TL (€250 million), but there are debts from 2021 that they will have to repay to Turkey and the amount left at the end will be TL 2.15 billion. He noted that inflation has spiked up to 88 per cent.

The party leader said authorities will raise taxes and call it a reform and demanded to know “what you signed in our name”.

For his part, Arikli told opposition parties “if you help us we will thank you, if not, we will do it ourselves”.

‘Finance minister’ Sunat Atun said that protocols between Turkey and the north have been signed for years and explained that a country (Turkey) using its own internal resources in another country also sets some conditions for this, but this is not an imposition, he said.

In his statements justifying the protocol, ‘Prime Minister’ Unal Ustel said the north is a “scorched earth” with the economy hitting rock bottom and the first reform will concern local government.

Meanwhile, reactions have also been recorded by at least three Turkish Cypriot labour unions, namely the labour union of electricity workers, teachers and public servants (BES)

According to Turkish Cypriot reports, the head of labour union of electricity workers declared they will not allow the plans to pass, saying they concern “regression”. They refer to the protocol’s provisions on the privatisation of the ports, the abolition of collective labour agreements and reducing the rights of public servants.