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Nicosia’s Ledra Street opening would shatter symbol of division March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Hopes remain high for Cyprus breakthrough if crossing is established

Peace talks… > Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, who is to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat today, said he is ready for peace talks but stressed that there can be no quick fix solution.

21-03-08_ledra_street_crossing.jpg  A Cypriot soldier stands guard by a temporary bulkhead at a Cypriot outpost next to the UN buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot controlled areas of Nicosia.

The hustle and bustle of shoppers eyeing trendy boutiques on the southern side of Nicosia’s Ledra Street is not unlike what you would encounter in the commercial heart of any European city.

21-03-08_ledra_street1.jpg  Yet steps away from where couples huddle to sip coffee and buskers ply their trade stands an armed soldier guarding a barricade – a stark reminder that Nicosia remains Europe’s last divided capital in its last partitioned country.

Today, the island’s rival leaders are expected to agree on opening a crossing at Ledra Street – a deeply symbolic move that would give a lift to a fresh reunification drive. Up close, there is nothing remarkable about the 2.5 meter (8 foot) high barricade of aluminium and plastic boards.

21-03-08_ledra_street3.jpg  It certainly is less forbidding than the concrete wall torn down a year ago. But it rudely interrupts a vibrant street in the capital’s medieval core, shutting out a decaying no-man’s land of weed-strewn streets and crumbling buildings that slices the island into a Greek-Cypriot south and an occupied and military controlled Turkish-Cypriot north.

The UN-controlled buffer zone has been in limbo since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a failed coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. And the Ledra Street barricade has been the most poignant symbol of the enduring separation between the once-warring communities.

Expectations are high that Greek-Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will jointly announce a Ledra opening today to serve as a springboard for the start of talks on breaking years of deadlock on reunification. On Wednesday, President Christofias said Greek Cypriots were «ready to proceed with the opening at Ledra Street.»

The buildup to a Ledra opening has attained an air of inevitability. Nicosia’s Mayor Eleni Mavrou repeatedly said a crossing could be readied within five days of an announcement, despite months of work to shore up derelict buildings on either side of the pedestrian walkway.

Even a key Greek-Cypriot objection to Turkish army patrols near a future crossing that scuttled previous attempts at an opening appears to have been overcome: Aides to Christofias and Talat suggested last week that Turkish troops would pull back enough to remain out of sight of the crossing.

21-03-08_ledra_street2.jpg  Another breach in the buffer zone would be nothing new – five crossings have opened since 2003 when Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions. Greek and Turkish Cypriots have since crisscrossed the divide hundreds of thousands of times, setting aside old trepidation and mistrust to see old friends and visit homes they had been barred from visiting for nearly three decades.

But a Ledra Street crossing would resonate most with Cypriots jaded after decades of stalemate and a heap of failed peace initiatives. That’s because Ledra’s mystique as the embodiment of division would be shattered – offering fresh hope for unification.

«It could serve as an ice breaker, I think we are able work things out with the Turkish Cypriots,» said Chrysanthos Trokkoudes, 69, whose health food store is a stone’s throw away from the barrier.

Ledra Street has been a symbol of separation since January 1964 when British peacekeepers laid barbed wire across the street between Nicosia’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors after brokering a cease-fire agreement.

The street’s division was cemented in 1974 with the invasion. «A symbol of division may now turn out to become a symbol of reunification,» said veteran Turkish-Cypriot politician and former mayor of northern Nicosia Mustafa Akinci. Besides hope, a crossing would offer the tangible benefit of injecting new life in the old town nestled within 15th-century Venetian walls. Tourists and locals eager to satisfy their curiosity would boost commerce, especially in the less cosmopolitan Turkish-Cypriot north.

Peace deal seen to boost Cyprus tourism industry March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Cyprus Occupied, Politics, Tourism.
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Cyprus’s tourism industry would benefit from $300 million a year in additional revenues if a peace deal was hammered out, economists said yesterday.

Economists from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides of the island said the sector would also stand to benefit from greater cooperation and economies of scale.

“Ninety-eight percent of the Turkish Cypriot respondents and 79 percent of the Greek Cypriot respondents see a win-win situation with a joint tourism industry,” The Management Center, an independent think tank, said in a news release.

Tourism is an important component of the economies of both Cypriot sides; it represents 14 percent of gross national product of Turkish Cypriots, and 12 percent of Greek Cypriots’ gross domestic product. Tourism revenues in the Greek-Cypriot part of the divided island were $2.73 billion last year. Revenues in the Turkish-Cypriot part were $328.8 million in 2005, the last year for which figures are available.

The survey, funded by the British Embassy in Cyprus, said Greek and Turkish Cypriot industry professionals regard the division as a negative factor for their businesses.

“Tourism professionals of the two sides believe that the continuation of the current political situation results in lost business opportunities, and is perceived as a lose situation, at least for their side,” the research team said.

Cyprus leaders set for dialogue next week March 13, 2008

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The newly elected Cyprus President, Dimitris Christofias, is to meet with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Nicosia next Friday for talks that, it is hoped, will lead to the island’s reunification, a United Nations official said yesterday.

The two leaders will meet at the UN’s Headquarters at Nicosia Airport in the presence of the alliance’s representative on the island, Michael Moller, UN spokesman Jose Diaz said.

The announcement was made following a meeting between the two leaders’ aides that was described by Moller as “very cordial and constructive.” “The two aides reached a great degree of convergence on the issues discussed, including on the possible future opening of the Ledra Street crossing,” Moller said.

However Christofias, leaving for a European Union summit in Brussels yesterday, said he was concerned about the “provocative” stance adopted by Talat over the past few days. Christofias reiterated that a stalled July 2006 agreement between the two sides for the launch of exploratory talks on specific issues should be the basis for renewed talks.

Cypriot leaders to meet on March 21 March 12, 2008

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Newly elected Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will meet on March 21 to try to relaunch talks to reunite the island, a United Nations spokesman said on Wednesday.

“The date of the meeting has been set for March 21st,” Jose Diaz, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, told Reuters.

Christofias was elected last month, pledging to end a stalemate in talks between the Greek and Turkish communities on the eastern Mediterranean island, which remains a hurdle to Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union.

Cyprus was divided in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to a brief coup by Greek-Cypriot extremists at the urging of the military then ruling Greece.

Reunification talks stalled in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. blueprint, which was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots.The two sides agreed in 2006 to look at an incremental approach to negotiations, but that too has stalled because of disputes over its agenda.

Christofias’s predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos, last met with Talat in September 2007. The meeting reaffirmed a deadlock in negotiations.

Cyprus peace would carry hefty dividend March 7, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied.
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Cyprus’ economy would gain at least 1.8 billion euros ($2.75 billion) on an annual basis if there were a reunification deal on the ethnically partitioned island, economists said yesterday.

Economic benefits would come mainly from new business opportunities with Turkey, tourism revenue and construction, the survey sponsored by the Norway-based Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) said. “Translated into household income, the annual dividend per family comes to approximately 5,500 euros per year,” PRIO said in a news release yesterday. That represents 20 percent of the average income of Greek Cypriots, and 40 percent of Turkish Cypriots, it added.

Cyprus, an island of around 1 million people, was partitioned in a Turkish invasion in 1974. Greek Cypriots, who represent the island in the European Union, have no direct trade or diplomatic links with the Turkish-led statelet in the island’s Turkish occupied and military controlled north.

The southern areas of Cyprus controlled by the Greek-Cypriot government joined the eurozone on January 1, 2008. The northern part, a Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state recognized only by the government in Ankara, stayed out.

Economic disparities between the two sides are huge. Gross domestic product in the south was 15.5 billion in 2007, and approximately 2 billion in the north in 2006, according to the latest data available.

Economists from both sides of the divide based their projections on a seven-year game plan should a settlement be reached in 2009, and using Greco-Turkish trade relations, which have flourished in the past decade, as their reference point.

Greek and Turkish-Cypriot community leaders are expected to meet in the last fortnight of March to discuss how to resume peace talks. Reunification efforts collapsed in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN settlement blueprint accepted by Turkish Cypriots.

PRIO is financed by the Norwegian Research Council, the United Nations and the World Bank.

The remains of 10 Greek soldiers returned February 6, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Greek Diaspora.
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Soldiers carry the remains of 10 Greek soldiers, killed while fighting invading Turkish forces on Cyprus in 1974, which were returned to their relatives in Nicosia yesterday.

06-02-08_greek_soldiers.jpg

The soldiers had been buried in a multiple grave in the aftermath of the invasion 34 years ago.

Nicosia Municipality ready for Ledra Street opening November 7, 2007

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Nicosia Municipality is ready to handle the opening of Ledra Street, adding that plans to support the infrastructure of the buildings along the street have already been prepared.

Speaking at a press conference where she presented the work of the Municipality for 2007 as well as its plans for 2008, Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou said that the technical preparations in the event Ledra Street opens are ready, adding that Ledra Street can open in a matter of five days the most.

She said the work to support the infrastructure will be financed by the EU and will take some time, however without endangering the safety of pedestrians while the road will be open for traffic.

Mavrou said there are a total of 275 derelict buildings, some of which pose an immediate danger to pedestrians and the Municipality’s engineers will proceed with their support.
The Nicosia Mayor said that the loan which the Municipality is anticipating to acquire to carry out work to revive buildings along the Green Line, will reach three million pounds.

The National Guard, the island’s army, removed on March 8, 2007, the wall in Ledra Street, which was erected soon after the Turkish invasion in 1974. Nicosia today, is the last divided capital in Europe. The government of Cyprus clarified that the demolition of the wall does not mean the opening of the crossing point to and from the Turkish occupied areas, unless security issues are addressed. In a statement, the members of the Security Council urged both communities to work with the UN to open Ledra Street crossing.