New border crossings open in divided Cyprus, first in 8 years

People look at unoccupied houses at the site of the newly-opened Dherynia crossing separating the Republic of Cyprus and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2018
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New border crossings open in divided Cyprus, first in 8 years

  • Dozens of people from the island’s Greek Cypriot south streamed across the eastern Dherynia border post
  • At Dherynia soldiers removed barriers wrapped in rusty barbed wire while a small group of riot police stood by

DHERYNIA: Cypriot officials opened two new border crossings Monday for the first time in eight years, the latest push for peace by the two sides after UN-backed talks collapsed last year.
Dozens of people from the island’s Greek Cypriot south streamed across the eastern Dherynia border post, walking past United Nations peacekeepers into the breakaway Turkish-backed north.
At the same time, the Lefka or Aplici crossing opened in the northwest of the Mediterranean island.
“I am very pleased,” said 65-year-old Turkish-Cypriot Hasan Uzun about the move. “I am sick, but I wanted to come here and see this beautiful day with my eyes. I am very emotional now.”
Ahead of the reopening of the Dherynia crossing, soldiers removed barriers wrapped in rusty barbed wire while a small group of riot police stood by.
Despite arguments breaking out among onlookers in the run-up to the midday (1000 GMT) opening, the crowd passed peacefully across the border.
The wreckage of a car could be seen off the main road in the UN-patrolled buffer zone, while nearby signs warned of mines beyond a barbed wire fence.
“Today is good day for Cyprus,” said Elizabeth Spehar, head of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus.
“These crossing points will play an important role in helping to increase people to people contacts, contributing to build much needed trust and confidence between the communities on the island.”
The development is also seen as a vital step to reviving peace negotiations, which collapsed in acrimony in July 2017.
“It’s another asset to the peace talks,” said Chris Charalambous, who was just 18 when war broke out more than 44 years ago.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens seeking to unite the island with Greece.
For the first time since fleeing the conflict, Charalambous was looking forward to seeing his house which now lies in a military zone beyond the border posts.
“I’m just going to walk down and then I walk back, I don’t know if I can stand spending time in the north,” he told AFP.
While houses still line the road to the north of the checkpoint where Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags fly, trees and bushes now cling to the abandoned buildings.
Goats were grazing in the former residential area, which remains fenced off behind wire and red military signs.
“All these houses are destroyed... time destroys everything, 44 years is too much,” said 72-year-old Iacovos Coshandis.
Before the war, he used to walk to school along the road and said he still hopes to see Cyprus reunited.
The island has been divided for more than four decades and the two communities lived isolated from one another until Turkish Cypriot authorities cleared the way for the free movement of people following a previous round of talks in 2003.
In 1996, Dherynia was the scene of riots when two Greek Cypriots were killed by Turkish forces in one of the worst incidents on the cease-fire line.
But despite being pleased that the Dherynia crossing had been opened, resident Helen said she felt anxious about going to see the conflict-hit area she once traveled through daily.
“I think the political situation is the problem. The people, we are friends, because we are all Cypriots,” she said, declining to give her surname.
The decision to open the two border crossings came after President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met last month in the UN-protected area in the divided capital Nicosia.
Can Emre Cagin, a 21-year-old Turkish Cypriot, said he was feeling excited after waiting for years for the border crossing to open.
“I think this is a really important moment for us Cypriots,” he said, as he and his mother waited to have their documents checked.
“I’m going to see that side for the first time, and I’m going to live that peace feeling inside me.”


UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

Updated 53 min 38 sec ago
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UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

  • Jeremy Hunt: It was disrespectful for Boris Johnson to turn down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate
  • Hunt says candidates should explain their Brexit positions

LONDON: Jeremy Hunt, one of the two candidates vying to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, said on Monday that rival Boris Johnson was a coward for avoiding public head-to-head debates on what to do about Brexit.
“On the question of debates, he is being a coward,” Foreign Secretary Hunt said. “It is cowardice not to appear in head-to-head debates.”
Hunt, 52, said it was disrespectful for Johnson to have turned down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate on Sky television.
“People need to know what you’re going to do and you need to answer those questions,” Hunt said. “I promise Boris Johnson the fight of his life and he’s going to have that and he’s going to lose.”
Johnson, 55, is the favorite to win a vote of 160,000 Conservative Party members who will decide who will be the next prime minister. Betting markets give him a 79 percent implied probability of winning the top job, down from 92 percent last week.
He has cast himself as the only candidate who can deliver Brexit on October 31 — with or without a deal — while fighting off the electoral threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Early on Friday, police were called to Johnson’s home after neighbors heard a loud altercation between him and his girlfriend. Police said there was no cause for police action.
The Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said an unidentified neighbor had heard Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, screaming followed by “slamming and banging.” At one point, Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”
Johnson declined to answer questions about the incident at a hustings event in Birmingham on Saturday.
Hunt said the personal life of Johnson was irrelevant but that the candidates should explain their Brexit positions — and specifically what would a new leader do if lawmakers tried to sink a new government heading toward a no-deal Brexit.
“If parliament takes no-deal off the table before Oct. 31, will Boris call a general election?” Hunt said. “I think a general election would be catastrophic.”
Hunt said he would seek a better deal from the EU to leave on Oct. 31 and would, if absolutely necessary, leave without a deal. If parliament took a no-deal Brexit off the table, he intimated there would have to be delay.
“In that situation, you would have to carry on negotiating,” Hunt said. “I want to leave by Oct. 31 but if parliament stops it the prime minister has to obey the law.”
Johnson repeated on Monday that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
“We are going to come out of the EU on October 31,” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. “This time we are not going to bottle it.”
Like Hunt, Johnson promised lower taxes if he wins the top job.
When asked the naughtiest thing he had ever done, Hunt said: “When I was backpacking through India, I once had a Bhang Lassi — which is a kind of cannabis lassi — that’s the naughtiest thing I am prepared to confess to on this program.”