Cyprus opens divided street in 'historic' move

Ledra Street in capital has come to symbolize the island's ethnic partition, revives hope for reuinification.

cyprus street 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
cyprus street 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Greek and Turkish Cypriots opened a crossing Thursday at Ledra Street, a main shopping street in Cyprus's divided capital that has come to symbolize the island's ethnic partition. Ledra Street has been split for 44 years. The rival leaders on the island agreed to open a crossing there during a meeting last month that revived hopes for an overall peace deal. "We are living a historic day today. We are witnessing one of the obstacles to a solution come down," said Osdil Nami, aide to Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who said that "almost half a century of division is symbolized" in Ledra Street. "It also symbolizes for me that when Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots can overcome their fears.... they can overcome long-standing disputes and arguments," he said during a ceremony to open the street. Officials from both sides of the divide cut ribbons to colored helium balloons to mark the opening of the street at the end of a ceremony attended by Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials as well as UN peacekeepers. The Ledra Street crossing becomes the sixth point at which people can cross between Cyprus's Greek Cypriot South and Turkish-occupied North. "We still have a long way to go," said Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou. "This is the first step. We hope many more will follow." Crews had spent days sweeping away debris, repaving the street and reinforcing abandoned buildings along the 70-meter (230-foot) stretch of Ledra Street that runs through a UN controlled buffer zone. Turkish military patrols in northern Nicosia were also moved out of sight. "We all know Ledra opening doesn't mean a solution to the Cyprus problem," said UN Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar. "But it does give us a glimpse when all the elements come together." Cypriots who had gathered at both ends of the street for the ceremony began crossing as soon as Ledra was reopened. "These are feelings of joy and hope for our common home. Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots... we hope that the opening of this road opens a window of opportunity to reunify our island," said Andreas Gregoriou, a 45-year-old Greek Cypriot refugee from Famagusta in the Turkish Cypriot north. "This is a historic day." But some were less jubilant. "This is just another crossing. Another crossing has opened, nothing more," said Costas Andreou, 70, a refugee from Kyphrea in the North. "Let's hope for better days soon, before we die." Ledra Street was split in 1964 during the outbreak of intercommunal fighting - when British peacekeepers laid barbed wire across the street between Nicosia's Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors. Ten years later, the island was divided when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. Boundary restrictions in divided Cyprus were relaxed by the Turkish Cypriots in 2003, and five crossing points have opened since then. Ledra Street becomes the sixth, but its symbolism injects momentum in a renewed reunification drive. Anyone with an ID card or passport can use the crossing points to go between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot parts of the island. Talat and New Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias have already agreed to end a four-year stalemate in peace talks, setting up working committees for full-fledged negotiations. Politicians, however, caution that the Ledra crossing alone is not enough to end Cyprus' division. "We ought to remember that only a controlled crossing point is opening, not free and unfettered movement across Ledra," Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said earlier this week. "Our common wish and goal is that one day, we could walk (Ledra), as well as all of Cyprus, from one end to the other without having to go through whatever procedures."