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Media Watch 2003

28 April 2003
Source: Scotsman
Author: Alex Efty
Comment: The following article appeared in the Scotsman on 28 April 2003
Greek Cypriots flock to north for Easter

THOUSANDS of Greek Cypriots crossed into Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus to spend Orthodox Easter Sunday, praying in churches and visiting cemeteries they abandoned after the Turkish invasion three decades ago.

Many of the worshippers spent the night in miles-long queues of cars at a checkpoint before it opened.

The holiday came on the fifth day after Turkish authorities lifted a travel ban between the Turkish-occupied north and the Greek Cypriot-controlled south for the first time since the 1974 Turkish invasion.

The lifting of the ban has been welcomed on both sides and hailed by some as a first step toward a long desired reunification.

A police announcement said more than 9,000 Greek Cypriots and 6,000 Turkish Cypriots crossed the border by late afternoon yesterday, raising the total for the five days to 36,000 and 18,000 respectively.

Turkish Cypriots were offered coloured eggs and traditional Easter biscuits by Greek Cypriots at the checkpoint, while Greek Cypriots crossing north were welcomed with flowers and wishes of "Kalo Pascha" - "Happy Easter" - from Turkish Cypriot girls.

However, Turkish authorities banned Greek Cypriot media representatives from crossing and travelling freely in the north, saying they must apply for permission a day in advance so arrangements can be made for a minder to accompany them.

The ban followed extensive Greek Cypriot TV and newspaper coverage of ravaged Christian churches and cemeteries in the north.

Many churches have been turned into mosques and others into stables or warehouses after being stripped of valuable icons and other religious ornaments. Christian cemeteries have also been desecrated, with crosses and tombstones broken and scattered.

The desecration happened in the early years of the enforced partition in the wake of the 1974 invasion, which was sparked by an abortive coup by Greek Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. The island has since been split, with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot recognised only by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there.

Nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots abandoned their homes in the north and only a small number have been allowed to cross for rare, brief visits. Turkish Cypriot authorities have also prevented their people from visiting the south.

The travel ban was lifted a week after Cyprus signed its accession agreement with the European Union, opening the way for it to become a member next year.