Turkish Cypriot President crosses to south

Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat crossed over to the Greek Cypriot part of the island's ethnically divided capital Friday — the first head of the Turkish Cypriot north to do so in more than three decades.

Turkish Cypriot President crosses to south
Talat walked across the buffer zone that splits the capital at Ledra Street, a pedestrian shopping boulevard in Nicosia's medieval center. It was a private visit that elicited smatterings of applause from surprised Greek Cypriot shoppers.

Although Talat has visited the south before, he did so several years ago as the head of a political party. No Turkish Cypriot President had crossed over to the southern part of the island since Cyprus was physically divided along ethnic lines in 1974, said Greek Cypriot Presidential Secretary Vassos Georgiou.

The election in February of Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, who replaced a hardliner, has raised hopes that the decades-old division of Cyprus can be resolved. Christofias and Talat enjoy good personal relations and have agreed to restart stalled talks on reunifying the island.

Their first move was to open a crossing at Ledra Street last month. The street had been closed since the 1960s and came to symbolize the island's division. Its opening was hailed as a significant symbolic milestone in efforts to reunify Cyprus.

Talat strolled through the crossing on Friday for an hour-long visit, accompanied by half a dozen bodyguards and advisers.

He sat down at an ice cream shop on Ledra Street in the south that he used to visit as a schoolboy.

"I came to enjoy the Makridromos," he said, using the Greek nickname for Ledra Street. "It is a childhood place and I wanted to experience the new climate."

The owner of the Heraclis store, Costas Vrontis, treated Talat to three scoops of vanilla ice cream.

"I was told that this is the best ice cream in Cyprus. I'm not sure about that claim, but it is very good ice cream," said a jovial Talat.

Asked whether he would invite Christofias to join him, he said: "Not now, maybe next time."

Talat said he was aware that he might be criticized by some Turkish Cypriots for his brief stroll around southern Nicosia, but said "it's a democratic society."

He wandered into a CD shop further down the street, buying a variety of music, and when he went into a health food store he was greeted with a smattering of applause. Greek and Turkish Cypriot shoppers frequently stopped him to shake his hand and greet him.

Aides to Talat said he was not asked to show any identification at the crossing.

Cypriots and foreigners using the six crossings between the Turkish Cypriot north and the Greek Cypriot south must show ID cards or passports.

"I am committed to work for peace on the island," Talat said. "I want to find a solution through negotiations."
Last Mod: 11 Nisan 2008, 17:22
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