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Symbolic Cyprus Crossing Reopens


Greek and Turkish Cypriots have removed a blockade that has separated them for half a century. Ledra Street, a thoroughfare in the heart of Nicosia had become a potent symbol of Cyprus's ethnic partition. For VOA, Nathan Morley has this report from Nicosia.

Piles of sand bags, soldiers with rifles and sentry points that have long been the visual symbol of this island's division have given way to the bustle of pedestrians crossing through the capital's oldest shopping street.

You still have to have your passport stamped when crossing from the Greek sector to the Turkish side, which takes a few minutes, so this is by no means an open and free crossing.

But the technicalities were brushed aside Thursday as both Greek and Turkish Cypriots savored the moment.

George Iacovou, aide to Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, was the first to speak at the opening ceremony.

"We aspire to the elimination of crossings and the opening of all roads in this country for all its citizens with no obstructions as a consequence of its reunification," said Iacovou.

Ozdil Nami the aide to Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was also upbeat.

"We are witnessing the overthrow of one of the obstacles for the reunification of the island," said Nami. "It has been a very symbolic crossing point."

UNFICYP spokesperson Jose Luis Diaz says the events are a step in the right direction and he is hopeful progress between the two communities on the Cyprus problem can be made soon.

"We think it is important because the closing of Ledra Street has become a symbol for the division of Cyprus, so we hope this opening will mark the beginning of a process of engagement between the two sides that will lead to a settlement of this long-standing dispute," said Diaz.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been divided since 1974, when Turkey deployed troops after a coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted union with Greece.

Cyprus' government demolished a wall and military checkpoint on Ledra Street last year. But plans to reopen the street were rejected by President Christofias' predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos.

The removal of this barrier connects two different worlds - prosperous southern Cyprus, with its brand-name shops such as Starbucks and Marks and Spencer, to a row of tiny Turkish Cypriot traders selling fake jeans, carpets and the latest mobile phones at knocked down prices.

The Ledra Street crossing is now the sixth barrier to open connecting the two communities.

Even though the removal of the Ledra crossing may be just a symbolic move, U.N. Undersecretary-General Lynn Pascoe sees an opportunity to solve the division of this island.

"The two leaders have set their sights on achieving a fair and last solution and I think Cypriots are right to have high expectations," said Pascoe. "I am encouraged and will pass this on to the secretary general when I talk with him."

After the United Nations failed attempt to reunite Cyprus in 2004, Pascoe's words are welcome news to Cypriots who want to end the division of this island.

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