May Day in Nicosia

NICOSIA – Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who celebrated May Day together for the first time in 45 years yesterday, urged Turkey to end the occupation of northern Cyprus and called for a reunification of the island. The celebrations became possible as tens of thousands of people continued to cross the border after Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash lifted a ban on Turkish Cypriots visiting across the United Nations buffer zone that divides the island. Waving red banners, hundreds of Turkish-Cypriot trade unionists marched from the occupied north of the split capital city to join fellow unionists in May Day celebrations in the main square on the Greek-Cypriot side. More than 160,000 people have crossed since the April 21 lifting of the ban to allow day visits to the south by Turkish Cypriots and a stay of up to three nights by Greek Cypriots, provided they stay in hotels in the north. Newspapers and television stations on both sides have devoted extensive daily coverage to the exhilaration of people revisiting birthplaces and homes they were forced to abandon and to meetings with old friends for the first time since the 1974 Turkish invasion. «This historic gathering lays the foundation for a new joint motherland,» said Ali Gulle, the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot Dev-Is trade union confederation. «The Turkish Cypriots never believed in the enforced division and the walls erected by the Denktash regime. I assure you the day of reunification is dawning,» Gulle told the thousands of people who packed the square. Dimitris Christofias, the Greek-Cypriot speaker of the Cyprus Parliament, said this year’s May Day rally marked a difference for Cypriot workers. «It is… a demonstration of unity and struggle for the reunification of our joint motherland,» Christofias said. «The mass presence of Turkish Cypriots here is an expression of the joint objective, the joint desire, for reunification.» «The events of the past few days have proved that no artificial wall, no matter how high, can keep us apart forever,» he added. The invasion, sparked by an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece, split the island into a Greek-Cypriot-controlled south and the occupied north. It led to the displacement of nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north and 40,000 Turkish Cypriots from the south who were prevented by the Turkish side from returning to their homes. A breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in the north is only recognized by Turkey which maintains 40,000 troops there. Denktash lifted the ban after being blamed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for rejecting a reunification plan he presented to both sides in March.

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