Turkish Cypriot taxi drivers on Tuesday denounced the Cyprus government’s planned crackdown on their operations as “racist”.

The government had announced on Friday plans to effectively reduce the burden of proof to fine unlicensed taxi drivers, with Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades explaining to the Cyprus Mail that should the new legislation pass, fines can be levied based off an “evidence-based” system.

“Someone who arrives at Larnaca airport three times in a day and picks people up on all three occasions can be reasonably assumed to be a taxi driver. If they were spotted by the police and did not have the requisite licence, they could be fined,” he said.

Turkish Cypriot drivers, given that their vehicles and licences are registered in the north and not in the Republic, are classed by the Republic as “unlicensed” taxi drivers.

However, they have been able to operate in the Republic by covering the “T” on their registration plate – characteristic of commercial passenger vehicles in the north – and the fact that in the Republic, fines can currently only be levied against unlicensed taxi drivers should their passengers testify.

With the new rules set to restrict Turkish Cypriot taxi drivers’ operations, Famagusta Taxi Drivers Association chairman Muhammet Biberoglu hit out.

“We are issued with an international driving licence, yet we are dealing with serious problems in transporting passengers in the South. This is officially racism,” he said.

“Greek Cypriot taxi drivers do not want passengers to be transported from North Cyprus to South Cyprus in taxis. They want to do this themselves because they want to earn money themselves,” he said.

He added, “our state does not take any precautions about this. We face great problems in crossing to South Cyprus, while Greek Cypriot taxi drivers can come here and conduct their business as they wish. Are we the scapegoats? Should taxi drivers here not be able to eat bread?

Biberoglu announced that taxi drivers’ unions across the north are to unite into one federation, with the aim of overcoming the various problems they face, and “determining a common plan of action”.

The federation will be known as the Cyprus Turkish Taxi Associations’ Federation, and the relevant paperwork for its formation has been sent to the north’s ‘interior ministry’.