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January 9, 2007

Turkish Cypriots to demolish bridge

 
January 9, 2007

NICOSIA: The Turkish Cypriots said on Monday that they would go ahead with demolishing an elevated walkway in northern Nicosia despite objections from the influential Turkish army.

The walkway is at the core of a row with Greek Cypriots over opening a new crossing point between the island’s two communities on Ledra Street, a visible symbol of the world’s last divided capital Nicosia. “Actual work on removing the overpass will start tomorrow (Tuesday),” a spokesman for Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said in a written statement.

Talat had announced the decision on December 28, but the bridge, which is inside a military zone, has remained in place since then because of objections by the Turkish army, which invaded Cyprus more than 32 years ago. Turkey’s chief of general staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, said on Sunday the military opposed dismantling the structure without reciprocal gestures from the Greek Cypriot side.

“The opening of Ledra Street is not a problem for us, but such steps need to be simultaneous,” Buyukanit told the Milliyet newspaper. Media reports have suggested that Talat might even consider resigning if forced to back-pedal on his decision to demolish the overpass. In an apparent move to ease the tensions, Turkey said Monday that it was up to Talat’s Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Ankara, to make the final decision.

“Our government had consulted the military authorities and conveyed its political evaluation on the issue to TRNC President Talat,” a foreign ministry statement said. “Naturally, the final decision on the matter belongs to the TRNC authorities.”

Preparations to open Ledra Street were halted in December 2005 when the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government said the overpass encroached into the UN-controlled buffer zone separating the two sides.

Although the United Nations said no ceasefire infringement had

taken place, it urged that the construction be halted so a solution could be negotiated. If the street does reopen, it would be the sixth crossing point across the divide since April 2003 when the Turkish Cypriots lifted entry restrictions to Greek Cypriots, allowing unprecedented movement across the ceasefire line.

Ledra Street is significant because barricades were first erected there during intercommunal violence that flared in 1963. Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece.