After 46 years, Cypriot ghost town's beach opens to public

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - The pristine, azure waters at the edge of the uninhabited Varosha contrast sharply with the shabby, crumbling buildings on the beach in this deserted suburb of Famagusta.
For the first time in 46 years, citizens were allowed to set foot on Varosha beach in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north north of ethnically divided Cyprus on Thursday.
Hundreds came through a gate occupied by Turkish Cypriot police to walk on a freshly paved asphalt road to the beach, which was the jewel of what was once the premier tourist destination in Cyprus. The street was lined with police tape on both sides to prevent pedestrians from entering windowless houses and rusty shops, some of which were swallowed up by decades of snake-infested underbrush.
For some, like a woman with the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, it was a moment of joy to witness a "historic" moment.
For others, like Kyriakos Charalambides, a Greco-Cypriot Varosha-American who was watching TV from his home in Nicosia, it was a moment of bitterness and sadness. "Although I was expecting it, I shuddered as I watched these familiar places," Charalambides, a playwright, told the Associated Press. "It is a grief that cannot be comforted ... Varosha is lost."
The decision of Turkey and the renegade Turkish Cypriot state, recognized only by Ankara, to open the kilometer-long stretch of beach was sharply condemned by the island's Greek-Cypriot-led, internationally recognized government.
The Greco-Cypriot residents of Varosha fled in 1974 when Turkish troops advanced when Turkey invaded after a coup by Union supporters with Greece. Since then, the area has been placed under Turkish military control, cordoned off and left to the ravages of time.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades condemned the opening as a "blatant violation of international law" and as "inadmissible" the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, in which attempts to regulate part of Varosha - Maras in Turkish - by non-residents be considered. The resolutions also request that the area be transferred to the administration of the United States.
The United States Security Council, currently chaired by Russia, will hold closed consultations on Varosha on Friday.
Greek Cypriots fear that the beach opening is only a first step into Turkey and that the Turkish Cypriots will take over Varosha completely.
Anastasiades said in a statement Thursday that his administration had already protested to the United States, the European Union and other international organizations. He reiterated that the "unilateral" action could hamper attempts to resume stalled talks to reunite the island.
Both United States Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell expressed concern about the measures, which they said could exacerbate tensions and undermine new attempts to resume talks.
Former Varosha residents held a demonstration late Thursday at an intersection along a US-controlled buffer zone to express their opposition to the opening. The checkpoint - one of nine checkpoints from which Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can cross on either side - has been closed on the Turkish Cypriot side to counter the spread of COVID-19.
"How can someone not be upset about what they saw today?" Famagusta Greek Cypriot Mayor Simos Ioannou told the Associated Press. "Varosha should have been turned over to its rightful owners ... that's psychological pressure."
However, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials insist that the move benefits everyone and that the rights of Greek Cypriot property owners are not compromised, as only the beach is open for now.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said an inventory of all properties in Varosha is being carried out to see what will happen to the rest of Varosha.
But at least for the moment the opening of the coast and some roads where there is no private property was important, ”said Cavusoglu after a meeting on Thursday with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
"It will be useful to take steps that will benefit everyone and respect private property rights without violating United States decisions," said Cavusoglu.
The opening took place just three days before Turkish Cypriots would elect a new leader to represent them in US-backed peace talks.

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