Calls for council leader to resign after town hall flag sparks international uproar

Almost 1,500 people signed a petition calling for the council leader’s resignation in a day
By Victoria Munro

The controversial flag being raised outside the town hall this week (credit: Allen Windsor)
The controversial flag being raised outside the town hall this week (credit: Allen Windsor)

Furious residents are calling for the council leader to resign after a flag raised outside the town hall sparked international uproar.

On 15th November, members of the borough’s large Turkish Cypriot community raised a flag outside the town hall to mark the 38th anniversary of North Cyprus declaring itself separate from the majority-Greek country. 

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is currently only recognised as a legitimate state by Turkey, with the EU decrying the Turkish army’s continued presence there as an occupation.

A few hours later, following an outcry, Waltham Forest Council took down the flag and council leader Grace Williams put out a statement insisting it would never be raised again.

Her statement read: “Waltham Forest Council apologises for the offence caused by the raising of the flag of Northern Cyprus which has now been removed. We accept this remains a disputed territory not recognised by the UK Government and will not be raising it in future.

“We realise that cultural and historic sensitivities must be fully considered when putting on a cultural programme. We will commit to fully review our processes for any flag raising requests. 

“We will consult more widely to avoid causing offence and ensure all communities are included. Our intention is to celebrate our communities, not cause division.”

Following criticism that the council previously allowed the flag of Tibet – also not recognised by the UK Government – to be flown, it was clarified this was a decision made by former leader Clare Coghill and will not take place again.

The flag was raised following a request from Conservative councillor Nick Halebi, who represents Chingford Green.

Speaking to the Echo yesterday, Cllr Halebi said the community was “really upset at not being treated in a fair way” and argued the council should not have bowed to pressure to remove the flag.

He said: “The council should not be getting involved in external affairs when this event was a community thing.

“I’m worried if this will become a precedent. The community is asking why they are being singled out, particularly as the majority are from the Muslim community.

“It’s a shame because the council has done an awful lot of work to promote cohesion. The current leader is a lovely lady, I feel she’s been either misled or pressured.”

A petition calling for Cllr William’s resignation has already been signed almost 1,500 times in one day.

Petition creator Arkin Oksuzoglu wrote that it was “beyond comprehension” that the leader considered the flag “so ‘offensive’ that an apology [was] needed”.