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Religious heads breach Cyprus divide for virus prayers

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Nicosia (AFP)

Christian and Muslim religious leaders reached out Friday across the divided island of Cyprus in a rare show of unity for prayers to overcome the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Cyprus Orthodox Church, Turkish Cypriot Mufti Talip Atalay and the Armenian and Maronite religious leaders issued the joint call.

They urged "all other religious and faith community leaders in Cyprus and all sisters and brothers of faith to join them in prayer and action to fight this pandemic together", in a statement issued by an interfaith group of the stalled UN-sponsored peace process.

They made a special mention of "all doctors, nurses, medical, paramedical personnel and all caregivers who are struggling daily to confront the consequences of this virus".

They also called on the faithful to "pay very serious attention" to the strict social distancing measures enforced on both sides of the island's UN-patrolled ceasefire line.

Both the Greek Cypriot-administered south and the Turkish Cypriot have closed schools and shut down clubs, bars, restaurants, prohibited indoor leisure activities and banned all competitive sports.

Following the first COVID-19 case confirmed in Cyprus on March 9, crossing points along the 180-kilometre (110-mile) ceasefire line between the two sides have effectively been shuttered.

The tally has since jumped to more than 100, but without fatalities, with 75 cases of coronavirus reported in the south and 33 in the north, according to latest figures.

The island has been divided between the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus and the northern third under Turkish control since 1974 when Ankara's troops invaded after a coup backed by the junta then ruling Greece.

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