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Ledra wall diving Nicosia comes down March 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied.

Gesture of goodwill, but crossing not open yet

In a surprise move, Cypriot Greek governmental authorities began knocking down the Ledra Street wall just before midnight last night, saying it would be gone by sunrise but this didn’t mean the crossing would open, government spokesman Christodoulou Pashiardis said.

“The removal of the wall was undertaken by us. You could say it is an indication of goodwill and a first positive step,” he said. “It does not mean that Ledra Street is open because there are other issues to be solved regarding security matters.”

The government has been insisting for months that Ledra Street could not be opened until Turkish troops disengaged from the area and until the security of pedestrians was guaranteed, which included the strengthening of the neglected buildings inside the Green Line.

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos also said he wanted Turkish and ‘TRNC’ flags and symbols removed from the area, a demand which angered the Turkish side.

The two sides have been at loggerheads over opening the crossing point for over a year since the Turkish side erected a bridge that would allow Turkish troops to continue patrolling nearby Ermou Street as pedestrians passed over. However the Greek Cypriot side insisted the crossing would never open until it was gone. Its removal was only a precondition for a dialogue.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat ordered the removal of the bridge just before Christmas, demanding the removal of the wall in return, but the government insisted on its conditions. Since then the two sides have been engaged in talks with UNFICYP to discuss what needed to be done to open the street. A UN spokesman said last night it was hoped the move by the Greek Cypriot side would lead to the opening of the crossing.

In Brussels President Papadopoulos told reporters last night: “Mr Talat had wanted to make a point that the Turkish side was showing goodwill by building the bridge, obviously under pressure from Turkish Cypriot shopkeepers. They then made us out to be the ones blocking the opening,” he said. “The blockade was not by us. It has always been by the Turkish troops in the area. We have said and we say now that the opening of Ledra can only occur if the Turkish troops move out of the area.”

Throwing the ball back into the Turkish Cypriot court, Papadopoulos said the Greek Cypriot side had now made a gesture of goodwill. “If the Turkish army doesn’t pull away as well, then we will all know who is causing the blockade,” he said. “Efforts will also be needed to be made to ensure that the mines, which we suspect are there, be removed.”

Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou agreed. “Safety issues are the most important on a road where civilians will walk. The army has no place there. A lot is still needed and the government will decide on the next move,” she said.

Pashiardis said the government had invited the Turkish side for a dialogue to resolve the outstanding issues. “That is if they really want Ledra Street to be opened,” he added.
Pashiardis was at the forefront of the demolition scene last night along with Police Chief Charalambos Koulentis when the work began.

Members of the anti-riot squad MMAD were also at the scene as around 40 National Guardsmen carted off a sentry post and the steps to the wall that were also removed.
Curious crowds began filing down to the end of Ledra Street around midnight but the area near the wall was cordoned off by police.

“This is something totally unexpected and I don’t understand why they had hushed such a historic event. I am just glad that I have been here to witness this”, said onlooker Marios Polyviou. Also looking on was student Aristos Christodoulou who said, “Wow, this is something that I will be able to tell my future children. That I was there.”

One television cameraman recording the bulldozing from a car park overlooking Ledra said, “This is something wonderful to see. It feels so strange to watch it come down like that. Let’s just hope that something actually good comes out of this and this is not just another night of work for me.”

Opposition parties welcomed the move. DISY’s Averoff Neophytou said it was “surprising and positive”. “We will wait and see what the government’s next move is,” he said.
Michalis Papapetrou from the United Democrats called the demolition of the wall “historic”. “The oldest dividing wall of Cyprus and of Nicosia is coming down. I am so happy. The light of hope is shining and this giving the initiative for everyone to work towards a settlement…the walls of our minds now need to come down now,” he said.

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