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Symbolic border crossing reopens again

Latest update : 2008-04-04

The Ledra Street checkpoint, at the heart of Cyprus's divided capital Nicosia, reopened two-and-a half hours after it was closed down Thursday evening as Greek Cypriot authorities said the Turkish side violated the agreement. (Report: K.Williams)

NICOSIA, April 3 (Reuters) - Greek and Turkish Cypriots 
pulled down barricades on Thursday separating them for half a
century, reopening a street which became a symbol of Cyprus's
ethnic partition.
 

The reopening of Ledra Street was meant to be a step towards
ending the island's division, an obstacle to Turkey's membership
of the European Union and a source of tension between NATO
partners Athens and Ankara.
 

Hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots crossed Ledra after
the 80-metre (262 ft) stretch of road in the main commercial
district of Nicosia was opened to pedestrians in a ceremony
attended by UN envoys and dignitaries from both communities.
 

"I couldn't sleep all night. I will walk to St Loukas church
(on the Turkish Cypriot side) and light a candle," said Loukia
Skordi Salidou, 65.
 

"My generation is dying. Thank God I'm alive to see this."
 

An upmarket shopping street on the Greek Cypriot side, Ledra
fans out into the alleyways of the Turkish Cypriot quarter to
the north of Nicosia in a maze of haberdasheries and fruit
markets.
 

"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 United
Nations in Cyprus, at the ceremony.
 

"But the opening gives us a glimpse of what is possible."
 

Underscoring unresolved disputes, the presence of Turkish
Cypriot police in the disputed U.N.-controlled no-man's-land
between the two sides triggered the abrupt re-closure of Ledra
on Thursday evening for two hours.
 

"The checkpoint has now been reopened and terms of the deal
(to open it) were restored ... we have been given assurances it
will not happen again," said Stefanos Stefanou, a spokesman for
the Greek Cypriot-led government.
 

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.
 


 

REUNIFICATION HOPES
 

Christofias's election last month, on discontent with his
predecessor's hardline policies towards Turkish Cypriots, raised
hopes for a revival of talks stalled since Greek Cypriots
rejected a U.N. 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.
 

Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are
expected to enter full-fledged negotiations this summer, after 
assessing progress in preparatory talks.
 

"This is a historic event," said Talat's aide, Ozdil Nami,
at the opening. "A small step, but a very important step."
 

Once known as "murder mile" from the days when Greek Cypriot
guerrillas targeted British colonial troops, Ledra cuts through
the heart of medieval Nicosia and across the U.N.-patrolled
"green line" splitting the city of about 250,000 residents.
 

On Thursday, peace campaigners on the Turkish Cypriot side
of the street welcomed Greek Cypriots by beating drums.
 

"We want more streets to open until there are no checkpoints
left," said Turkish Cypriot labourer Ahmet Jemal, 53.

Date created : 2008-04-04

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