Turkish, Greek Cypriots push aside barriers in divided Nicosia
Dozens of people pushed aside police barriers on Feb. 29 in Cyprus to protest the closing of a crossing point in the medieval core of the ethnically divided island nation’s capital.
Protesters chanted and raised placards opposing the closure of the Nicosia crossing point, which the Greek Cypriot government said it ordered to help prevent the possible spread of the new coronavirus.
The government shut four of nine such crossings along the 180-kilometre (120-mile) length of the United Nations-controlled buffer zone that separates Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south.
There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus found so far on either side of the divide.
But Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades said “there was no choice” other than to temporarily shut some of the crossing points to better enable police and medical staff to screen for possible carriers of the virus crossing either northward or southward.
“Those who think that they’re causing a political problem for the government aren’t justified,” Anastasiades told reporters.
Anastasiades said the fact that there are over 3,000 Iranian students and their relatives living in the north was a key reason prompting the closings.
Akıncı criticizes closings
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı said the situation was chaotic in border gates and reacted to the cessation of the crossings.
He criticized the closings, saying that any action should have been taken at the island nation's entry points and in consultation with Turkish Cypriot authorities.
“As I have already conveyed to Mr. Anastasiadis, we need to tackle the problem on scientific basis; but the decision of the Greek Cypriot leadership unfortunately lacks that and is in the direction of separating the two communities more, rather than uniting them,” Akıncı said in a tweet he posted on Feb. 29.
After Akıncı's statements, Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades on Feb. 29 called his Turkish Cypriot counterpart over the phone and informed him regarding the latest developments, according to Turkish Cypriot media.
“Mr. Anastasiades called me shortly after our phone call and announced that they will immediately remove the identity checks when crossing back to the north in Kermiya-Metehan,” Akıncı said on Feb. 29.
“This is, of course, a step in the right direction, and correcting the mistake on this issue would be a good development. I hope the mistake to close the four crossing points will also be corrected,” he added.
Meanwhile, a 55-year-old Greek Cypriot man was detained on Feb. 29 night in connection with scuffles at the Ledra Street crossing point during the protests.
He was seen in footage from the event pushing a Greek Cypriot national guardsman on duty at the scene.