Northern Cyprus to open coast of disputed 'ghost town'

Ankara (AFP) –

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Authorities in breakaway northern Cyprus are to open the coastal section of the long-fenced-off disputed town of Varosha, a Turkish Cypriot leader announced Tuesday on the eve of elections.

Speaking after a meeting in Ankara with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Cypriot premier Ersin Tatar told reporters that "the coast will open to the public from Thursday morning".

The Turkish army has kept Varosha fenced off since its Greek Cypriot residents fled when it invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup attempting to unite the island with Greece.

Backed by Ankara, right-winger Tatar is running in Sunday's presidential election in northern Cyprus against the incumbent, Mustafa Akinci, seen as a pro-reunification moderate.

Turkey, the only country that recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), has long planned to open Varosha.

Erdogan on Tuesday welcomed Tatar's announcement as a "courageous decision".

"We hope Varosha will entirely open. We are ready to give any support to TRNC officials on this issue," Erdogan said.

"It is an undisputed fact that Varosha is a Turkish Cypriot territory. The decision about it rests with the Turkish Cypriot authorities," he added.

The United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions calling for UN administration of Varosha and for its original Greek Cypriot residents to return.