Turk tourists head to Cyprus

ISTANBUL (AFP) – An Istanbul-based travel agency said yesterday it was inaugurating tours from Turkey to the Republic of Cyprus for the first time since 1974, when Turkey militarily occupied the north of the island. The first group of 20 tourists is scheduled to fly to the Greek-Cypriot port of Larnaca on May 19 via Athens, Ibrahim Habes, general manager of Karetta Travel, told Anatolia news agency. «There is huge interest… People are curious about southern Cyprus,» he said, adding that the tours would be organized once a week. Turkey, which does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot administration, internationally acknowledged as the government of the whole island, is the only country to recognize the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus. There are no direct flights between Turkey and the southern part of Cyprus and Ankara refuses to open its air and sea ports to Greek-Cypriot use. An advertisement on Karetta Travel’s website presented the south of Cyprus as «one of Europe’s greatest entertainment centers» and «a world-famous brand in tourism.» It promised tourists a visit to a prominent Muslim religious site near Larnaca and the opportunity «to see the other side of the world’s last divided capital, Nicosia.» Habes said Greek-Cypriot authorities refused to issue visas to tourists who have a Turkish authorities’ stamp on their passports, but said he hoped such trips would help peace efforts on the island. Greek Cypriots have been able to travel to Turkey since May 2003, when Ankara lifted a ban in place since the 1963 inter-communal strife on the island.