Cypriot checkpoint reopens...then closes again
Greek Cypriot authorities yesterday shut a symbolic checkpoint just hours after it opened for the first time in half a century, claiming the Turkish Cypriot side had broken an agreement on the presence of police.
A little earlier in the day, Greek and Turkish Cypriots had been celebrating the tearing down of the barricades separating one end of Nicosia's Ledra Street from the other.
But the presence of Turkish Cypriot police in disputed UN-controlled no-man's-land between the two sides triggered the abrupt re-closure yesterday evening, less than 12 hours after the historic opening.
"It is closed because of a violation of what was agreed by the occupation authorities," Cypriot Justice Minister Kypros Chrysostomides told the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, referring to the Turkish Cypriot side.
"We are trying to determine what happened," a UN spokesman said.
Reuters witnesses in the area said the Greek Cypriot move was followed about 30 minutes later with the Turkish Cypriots shutting the crossing on their side.
The move to open the street came as the two communities prepare talks to end the Mediterranean island's division, an obstacle to Turkey's hoped-for membership of the European Union and a source of tension between Nato partners Athens and Ankara.
Hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots crossed to the other side after an 80-metre stretch of the road in the main commercial district of Nicosia was opened to pedestrians, in a ceremony attended by UN envoys and dignitaries from both communities.
An upmarket shopping street on the Greek Cypriot side, Ledra fans out in the north into a maze of haberdasheries and fruit markets, the traditional mainstay of merchants in Nicosia. "We all know opening Ledra Street does not mean the Cyprus problem is resolved. There is much more hard work to be done," said Elizabeth Spehar, the chief of mission for the UN in Cyprus, at the ceremony. "But the opening gives us a glimpse of what is possible."
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. The division of Ledra Street precedes that by some 15 years, when barricades were erected by Turkish Cypriots in 1958. A more permanent roadblock was erected after ethnic strife in 1963.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots agreed last month to relaunch talks, ending a five-year stalemate in reunification efforts.
"By opening this street, we hope the road to a solution to the Cyprus problem will also open," George Iacovou, an aide to Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, told reporters.
President Christofias's election last month, on discontent with his predecessor's hard-line policies towards Turkish Cypriots, had raised hopes for a revival of talks stalled since Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint in a 2004 referendum.
Cyprus joined the EU soon afterwards, gaining veto power over Turkey's accession process. The international community recognises the Greek Cypriot-controlled government in the south as the island's legitimate authority, while the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is recognised only by Ankara.
The European Commission welcomed the opening of Ledra Street, saying it was an important confidence-building step.
Mr Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are expected to enter full-fledged negotiations this summer, after assessing progress in ongoing preparatory talks.
"This is a historic event," said Mr Talat's aide, Ozdil Nami, at the opening. "A small step, but a very important step."