NEWS

Nicosia eases restrictions on northerners

As Greek and Turkish Cypriots continued to pour through the open checkpoints and mingle freely after almost 30 years, the Cypriot government announced on Wednesday a series of «confidence-building» measures that will benefit residents of the Turkish-occupied north. Meanwhile yesterday, Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot unionists celebrated May Day together in Nicosia for the first time since 1958, when Cyprus was still a British colony. On Wednesday, Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomidis said the new measures were mainly intended «to enable the Turkish Cypriots living in the occupied region to enjoy, as far as this is possible, the rights and benefits provided by the Cyprus Republic to its citizens.» One of the measures announced enables the trading of goods produced in the occupied north and their export abroad «pending the contribution, and agreement of, the European Commission as well as non-governmental organizations.» The Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state in the island’s north has been subject to a trade embargo ever since its proclamation in 1983. The entity has only been recognized by Turkey. Other measures will open up more crossing points between south and north; legalize the circulation of north-registered vehicles throughout the island; «gradually relax» restrictions on tourists wanting to spend time on both sides of the island; enable Turkish Cypriots to seek employment «on equal terms»; provide scholarships to Turkish Cypriots to study in the republic’s universities; and include Turkish Cypriots on Cyprus sports teams. Also, relatives of Turkish-Cypriot victims of Greek-Cypriot aggression during the years 1963-74 will be given the same benefits as relatives of Greek-Cypriot victims. «The moving scenes we are witnessing are the result of the fact that Europe no longer tolerates divisions and walls like in Berlin,» Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said on Wednesday. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash insisted that, even if the division ended, Cyprus would only join the European Union at the same time as Turkey. Cyprus is due to join the EU in May 2004.