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Archbishop Ieronymos wants a more tolerant Church March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News, Politics, Religion & Faith.
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Archbishop Ieronymos yesterday distanced himself from the Holy Synod, which last week described cohabitation between unmarried couples as “prostitution,” saying the Church should be more open-minded and less moralizing.

“The Church is what Christ wants it to be, not what people want it to be,” Ieronymos told a congregation at Kalamata Cathedral. “We are giving the impression that the role of the Church is to force people to be good,” he said. Ieronymos cited the example of Saint Dionysus of Zakynthos, who reached sainthood even though he had sinned by harboring a criminal.

The Holy Synod’s statement, apparently influenced by Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki, was a reaction to government plans to introduce a cohabitation law granting the same rights to couples who live together as those who are married.

Relatives of missing Cypriots to get closure March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Facility is inaugurated in Nicosia where families can view identified remains

24-03-08_missing_cypriots.jpg  The room where families get a first glimpse of relatives who vanished in fighting in the 1960s and 70s, at a new facility in Nicosia, in the buffer zone separating the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities, last Tuesday. The facility will allow families from both sides to see recently unearthed remains of a relative for the first time.

The final act in dozens of human tragedies from divided Cyprus’s troubled past is unfolding in a clinical room with four tables draped in white sheets. Here, in the buffer zone separating Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities, families will get a first glimpse of relatives who vanished in fighting in the 1960s and 1970s, their hastily dug graves lost in the fog of postwar politics.

“We’ve had instances where children who hadn’t been born when their father disappeared see him for the first time as a skeleton,” said Elias Georgiades, the Greek-Cypriot member of a committee tasked with uncovering the fate of hundreds of missing Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

An international forensics team carries out the actual search for the approximately 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots who are listed as missing. To date, the exhumation and identification program has unearthed the remains of 379 missing people. The disappearances began in 1964 at the onset of intercommunal violence. They culminated in 1974 when Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus in response to a failed coup by supporters of union with Greece. Many died in battle; others were victims of revenge killings, buried in unmarked graves undisturbed for decades until long-suppressed information guided anthropologists to them.

The new facility, inaugurated this week in the no man’s land that cuts across the island’s capital, Nicosia, will allow scores of families from both sides to see recently unearthed remains of a relative for the first time in decades.

“This is a place where a lot of emotion will unfold,” said Christophe Girod, the committee’s UN-appointed member. Until now, viewings of the remains were held in a cramped office that was once part of the old airport’s installations.

Since July, the families of 57 Greek Cypriots and 26 Turkish Cypriots have viewed the identified remains of their relatives. Remains first undergo laboratory analysis before DNA testing to identify them. Then families are called in.

At one recent viewing, an elderly grieving woman caressed the skull of her husband, weeping softly as she kissed his jaw bone. The Greek-Cypriot man had vanished in 1974, after being snatched from his home late one summer evening, his relatives said. They asked that neither they nor the man be identified. His remains were found in a shallow grave in the northeastern Karpasia peninsula alongside those of 11 others. He was handcuffed to another body lying beside him. Forensic scientists said they could not determine the exact cause of death. But in his relatives’ minds, there was little doubt – his skull was fractured and he had a bullet hole in his shoulder blade. The black-clad relatives viewed the skeletal remains with quiet resignation. “After so many years, we expected this,” said one of the man’s three daughters.

One relative lit incense to waft over the remains in accordance with Orthodox Christian custom. His children said that at least this time, their father would receive a proper burial. There was a palpable sense of relief at the end of the viewing. The relatives embraced the staff and expressed their gratitude, some even managing to smile.

Families take custody of the remains a day or so later after signing release papers. Officials say such viewings have a ceremonial quality to impart a sense of closure. Relatives are first ushered into a sitting room where experts involved in the exhumation and identification process field questions and offer emotional support.

They are then guided into an adjacent viewing area where the remains are neatly arranged on a table. Clothing and other items such as keepsakes and pocket change found at the burial site are displayed nearby.

“The families cry, they shout, they kneel, they kiss the bones, they touch them… they demand the truth, the whole truth,” Georgiades said. “These are sacred moments for the relatives,” he added. “They imagine the last days, hours and moments of the skeleton that lies before them.”

The exhumation program is seen as a way to heal a festering wound that has long impeded reconciliation between the two estranged communities, as efforts to reunify the island remain stalemated. The program has raised around $5.33 million in donations to carry on its work through 2008, with an estimated five years remaining for completion.

“Without closure, the pain and anguish of these families remains. That is why the work of the (committee) is so important, not only to the families themselves, but also to the future of the island,” US Ambassador Ronald Schlicher said.

Leaders in Cyprus get to work for peace March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Intense consultations begin this week to prepare the ground for renewed Cyprus peace talks aimed at ending more than three decades of division and conflict on the Mediterranean island.

Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, whose election in February sparked a fresh drive for peace, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on Friday to launch reunification talks in three months.

Hopes are high that this time around rival leaders from the separated Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have the political courage and conviction to finally hammer out a road map to peace and end the 34-year divide.

“This is a new beginning that may turn out to be a starting point in a search for a settlement,” Joseph Joseph, Professor of Political Science at Cyprus University, told AFP. “After four long years of stagnation and deadlock, everybody now realizes it could be the last and best hope for a settlement. We have a new President with a fresh mandate, the right attitude and who is forward-looking. Talat is open-minded and flexible. Both leaders have a good personal and political relationship. So, the pressure is there. The right people are there and there is conviction from the international community.”

24-03-08_ledra_street.jpg  The rival Cypriot leaders announced a landmark decision to open Ledra street in the heart of Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital city, as a gesture of good will. “Ledra Street is a good start but not enough on its own,” an EU diplomat told AFP.

Advisers from both sides will meet today to form working groups and technical committees which will set the agenda for future talks.

Christofias’s chief aid George Iacovou will meet with his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Ozdil Nami to agree on the number of committees needed and the issues they will tackle. These issues will be a mixture of everyday problems, such as crime and immigration, as well as the more thorny subjects encompassing property rights.

Name dispute talks to continue tomorrow March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News, Politics.
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There was a climate of cautious optimism in Athens and Skopje over the weekend ahead of fresh negotiations on the Macedonia name dispute in New York tomorrow.

In Athens, diplomats said that a compromise could be reached ahead of NATO’s summit on April 2-4, where the possible accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is to be discussed. Officially Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was more reserved, saying, after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, that she “felt neither optimistic nor pessimistic.”

Bakoyannis is to meet her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Slovenia on Friday to discuss any headway made in New York by the two country’s representatives in United Nations-mediated talks.

On Saturday, FYROM’s President, Branko Crvenkovski, stressed the need for a “logical compromise” to the name dispute. FYROM’s envoy Nikola Dimitrov told reporters he had been given “precise instructions” but did not elaborate.

Cyprus leaders agree to start peace talks March 22, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Cyprus President Dimitris Christo-fias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday agreed to kickstart stalled peace talks and pledged to reopen a landmark street in the divided capital of Nicosia as a goodwill gesture.

The meeting between the two leaders, mediated by the United Nations’ permanent representative for the island Michael Moller, was the first since Christofias was elected to his post last month. It was “very positive and cordial” and revealed “a great degree of convergence,” according to Moller, who said that the men would meet again in three months. “The leaders have also agreed that Ledra Street should open and function as soon as technically possible,” he added. Officials in Nicosia said the crossing, in the city’s shopping district, could be open within a week.

Until the next scheduled meeting in June, the two leaders’ aides are to set up working committees to examine the resolution of practical issues.

Both leaders appeared positive and determined after yesterday’s talks. “We agreed to work together in a spirit of good will,” Christofias said, adding, “We shall examine any possible disagreement together.” Talat was even more effusive. “This is a new era for the solution of the Cyprus problem,” he said, adding that a settlement could even be found by year-end. Christofias did not refer to a timeframe. “We didn’t mention anything about the basis or parameters of the solution,” he said.

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.