Nicosia: Cypriot President Demetris Christofias received visiting Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, expressing hope for peace and calling on the world to press Turkey on its occupation of the island`s north.
Their meeting, on the second day of the pontiff`s landmark trip, comes ahead of talks with the head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, who has angrily denounced Turkey for "ethnic cleansing" in the north and for seeking to annex the whole country.
Christofias spoke of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which came in response to a Greek Cypriot coup seeking unification with Greece. Turkish troops remain in the island`s northern third.
Since then, he said Cyprus has been "experiencing the painful military occupation of more than 36 percent of its territory," with Nicosia remaining the last divided European capital.
Speaking of the pope`s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he expressed distress at the separation wall built by Israel, he said "I recall that you prayed for peace. May this prayer for peace soon be fulfilled in the case of Cyprus as well."
Christofias said he was seeking a "just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem" under the framework of a "bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality for the two communities."
So far, years of on-off negotiations with the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have failed to end the division.
"The international community must exert its influence on Turkey" to facilitate that, Christofias said.
"Otherwise, justice and stability in the whole area of the eastern Mediterranean will be jeopardised."
UN envoy Alexander Downer warned Cyprus`s Greek and Turkish communities on Friday that their destiny lay in their own hands as he left the island following a new spat between their leaders.
"I always say if it is true that the United Nations should not be an arbitrator or a mediator, it is also true that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are responsible for their own destiny, their own future and their own decisions," Downer said.
Christofias cancelled a meeting at the last minute on Thursday in protest at statements by Eroglu which he said called into question the whole basis of the talks.
The pope, addressing senior Cypriot officials and the diplomatic community in Cyprus, did not directly address the issue, but did refer to "countries with delicate political situations."
He spoke of the need to build trust and solid bonds of friendship between individuals, peoples and nations.
"Let me encourage all of you... to seize the opportunities afforded you... to build these relationships and, in so doing, to foster the greater good of the concert of nations and the true good of those you represent."
Later on Saturday, Benedict will meet the head of the Orthodox Church on Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, who blasted Turkey in remarks after the pontiff`s arrival on Friday.
Chrysostomos said that, since 1974, "Cyprus and its church have been experiencing the most difficult times in their history."
Turkey had attacked Cyprus "barbarously" and, "with the tolerance of the so-called civilised world,`" is implementing "unholy plans, first to annex our occupied territories and then the whole of Cyprus."
Chrysostomos said Turkey had driven "Orthodox Christians from their ancestral homes" and was bring settlers from Anatolia, "thus altering the demographic character of Cyprus."
He also denounced what he said was the relentless plunder of Christian monuments "in an attempt to rid the island of every last trace of all that is Greek or Christian," and asked the pope`s help to ensure their protection.
There are unconfirmed reports that the pontiff will accept a request from the Turkish Cypriot religious leader, Mufti Yusuf Suicmez, for a meeting.
Pope Benedict`s three-day pilgrimage to Cyprus is the first ever by a pontiff and his first to an Orthodox country.
While on the island, he will meet and pray with the small community of Roman Catholic faithful and also present the working paper for an October synod of Middle Eastern bishops focusing on the plight of Christians in the region.