Ghost town reopening upends Turkish Cypriot election

Ghost town reopening upends Turkish Cypriot election
Ersin Tatar, center, PM of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state recognized only by Turkey, at the opening of the beachfront suburb of Varosha, Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, Oct. 8, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 09 October 2020

Ghost town reopening upends Turkish Cypriot election

Ghost town reopening upends Turkish Cypriot election
  • The reopening of the ghost town of Varosha has given an 11th-hour boost to nationalist challenger Ersin Tatar
  • President Mustafa Akinci’s commitment to preserving a separate Turkish Cypriot identity has led to sometimes frosty relations with Ankara

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots vote Sunday in a presidential election upended by a controversial move sanctioned by Ankara restoring access to a beach resort sealed off since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled in 1974.
The reopening of the ghost town of Varosha gave an 11th-hour boost to nationalist challenger Ersin Tatar in his bid to unseat dovish incumbent Mustafa Akinci.
But the return of the one-time holiday destination of Hollywood stars to its former inhabitants has been a part of every plan to end the island’s decades-long division and the reopening of its ruins drew condemnation from the island’s internationally recognized government and from the European Union.
Sunday’s vote is the only Turkish Cypriot election that has any standing with the international community, which deals with the president as leader of the island’s minority community.
The breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in the north of the island in 1983 remains unrecognized, except by Ankara, whose role in its affairs has again been thrown into the spotlight by Thursday’s reopening of Varosha.
The Turkish Cypriot economy was already beset with problems when the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing the postponement of the election from April.
The virus has dealt a heavy blow to two of the private sector’s mainstays, tourism and higher education.
Budget support from Ankara provides a vital lifeline for the large state sector but many Turkish Cypriots resent what they see as the erosion of their identity by creeping annexation.
“Since the president will be the leader in charge of protecting our rights, interests and future, they must have strong, sincere relations with Ankara,” said graphic designer Cagin Nevruz Ozsoy.
“But it must be on a political level, in line with the interests of the Cypriot people and not in their own interests,” the 24-year-old said.
Akinci won election in 2015 on a promise to relaunch UN-backed talks on ending the island’s long division.
Despite the collapse of those talks in Switzerland in July 2017, he is standing for re-election on a similarly dovish platform.
While his role in promoting the island’s reunification as a bizonal federation earned him international plaudits, his commitment to preserving a separate Turkish Cypriot identity has led to sometimes frosty relations with Ankara.
When earlier this year he described the prospect of Turkish annexation as “horrible,” Ankara called him “dishonest.”
In contrast, his main challenger Tatar, who currently serves as the breakaway state’s prime minister, higlighted his influence in Ankara with the reopening of Varosha, which he announced on Tuesday after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But political scientist Bilge Azgin said the strategy could backfire because it “mobilized people who weren’t even going to vote.”
“They turned it into a referendum on respecting the people’s will,” Azgin told AFP.
Student Berke Cevik, 21, agreed, calling the decision “selfish and provocative.”
It is “a mistake which cannot be rectified,” he told AFP.
Before troops reopened Varosha, the campaign had been dominated by Turkey’s hunt for natural gas, which has pushed it into waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.
Last weekend, Turkey pulled a drill ship away from Cyprus after being threatened with economic sanctions by EU leaders, who welcomed the move.
But Turkey’s move to reopen Varosha is likely to revive the sanctions threat.
Both Cyprus and Greece said they would make a new push for the bloc to impose sanctions next week.
No candidate is expected to win Sunday’s election outright. The field of 11, all of them men, will be whittled down to two for a second-round runoff the following Sunday.
Competing with Akinci for the votes of Turkish Cypriots eager to see reunification is former prime ministrer Tufan Erhurman, of the center-left Turkish Republican Party.
Also in the fray is the breakaway state’s former foreign minister Kudret Ozersay, who resigned on Tuesday in protest at Varosha’s reopening.
“There are at least three to four serious candidates,” said Ahmet Sozen, political science chair at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, predicting that the runoff would be won by a candidate from the pro-reunification camp.


Hong Kong orders thousands to stay home in two-day virus lockdown

Hong Kong orders thousands to stay home in two-day virus lockdown
Updated 23 January 2021

Hong Kong orders thousands to stay home in two-day virus lockdown

Hong Kong orders thousands to stay home in two-day virus lockdown
HONG KONG: Thousands of Hong Kongers were ordered to stay in their homes on Saturday for the city’s first coronavirus lockdown as authorities battle an outbreak in one of its poorest and most densely packed districts.
The order bans about 10,000 people living inside multiple housing blocks within the neighborhood of Jordan from leaving their apartment until all members in the area have undergone testing and the results are mostly ascertained.
Officials said they planned to test everyone inside the designated zone within 48 hours “in order to achieve the goal of zero cases in the district.”
“Residents will have to stay at their premises to avoid cross-infection until they get their test results,” health minister Sophia Chan told reporters on Saturday.
The government had deployed more than 3,000 staff to enforce the lockdown, which covers about 150 housing blocks.
Residents were seen lining up for testing at 51 mobile specimen collection vehicles parked in the area and for basic daily supplies provided by the government.
Hong Kong was one of the first places to be struck by the coronavirus after it spilled out of central China.
It has kept infections below 10,000 with some 170 deaths by imposing effective but economically punishing social distancing measures for much of the last year.
Over the last two months the city has been hit by a fourth wave of infections, with authorities struggling to bring the daily numbers down.
Stubborn clusters have emerged in low-income neighborhoods notorious for some of the world’s most cramped housing.
The district of Jordan recorded 162 confirmed cases from the beginning of this year to January 20.
On Friday, the city recorded 61 infections, of which 24 were from Yau Tsim Mong area where the restricted district is located.

On paper Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world.
But it suffers from pervasive inequality, an acute housing shortage and eye-watering rents that successive governments have failed to solve.
The average flat in Hong Kong is about 500 square feet (46 square meters).
But many squeeze themselves into even smaller subdivided flats — cubicles that can be as tiny as 50 square feet or even less, with shared bathrooms and showers inside aging walk-up buildings.
It is in these kinds of buildings where clusters have been located in recent weeks, prompting the first lockdown order.
In recent days health officials began carrying out mandatory testing in about 70 buildings in the area, but the government has now decided to test everyone so as to “break the transmission chain.”
The lockdown has created considerable confusion for residents.
The looming restrictions were leaked to the city’s local media on Friday but there was no official statement from the government until Saturday morning once the lockdown had come in overnight.
Some media reported seeing residents leave the area ahead of the midnight deadline while others said locals were frustrated by the lack of clear information.
Authorities said people who were not in the restricted area at the time but had stayed in it for more than two hours in the past 14 days must undergo compulsory testing before midnight today.
The area is also home to many ethnic minorities, mainly South Asian Hong Kongers, a community that often faces discrimination and poverty.
Earlier in the week a senior health official sparked anger when he suggested ethnic minority residents might be spreading the virus more readily because “they like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol and chat together.”
Critics countered that poverty and a lack of affordable housing forcing people to live in cramped conditions were to blame for the virus spreading more easily in those districts — not race or culture.
The health official’s remarks also came as a video of predominantly white migrants dancing at a packed brunch on the more affluent Hong Kong Island sparked anger but no admonition from officials.