NICOSIA – Northern Cyprus reopened part of the beachfront of a resort abandoned since Turkey invaded the island in 1974, witnesses said on Thursday, taking a step supported by Ankara but condemned by Greek Cypriots and causing concern internationally.
People wearing face masks streamed in after being allowed through a checkpoint by police near the beachfront of Varosha, a deserted suburb of Famagusta city in the breakaway Northern Cyprus state in the east of the divided Mediterranean island.
The move could hurt efforts to revive settlement talks on the island and stoke Turkey’s row with EU members Cyprus and Greece over east Mediterranean maritime rights, which cooled after Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks..
Ersin Tatar, premier of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) which is only recognised by Turkey, unveiled the move in Ankara on Tuesday alongside President Tayyip Erdogan, who said he hoped the whole of the district would be opened up.
Greece called on Turkey to step back from the reopening, warning that Athens and Nicosia stand ready to bring the issue before the European leaders meeting next week, its government spokesman said on Thursday.
The internationally recognised government of Cyprus, a close ally of Greece, has already condemned the move and said it would file a recourse to the United Nations Security Council. Russia said re-opening the beach was unacceptable.
The Turkish Defence Ministry released photos showing small groups of people wandering along roads surrounded by deserted buildings and near Varosha’s sandy beach, including one woman with a large Turkish flag draped on her back.
“May this step, which has a big symbolic meaning and which ends a 46-year-old longing, be beneficial for the KKTC and our brethren who live there,” the ministry said.
The EU has said it is deeply concerned by the move, saying it will cause greater tensions and may complicate efforts for the resumption of Cyprus settlement talks. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also voiced concern.
The latest attempt at reunification between the two Cypriot sides collapsed in disarray in mid-2017, with each side blaming the other for the collapse. The discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated efforts to resolve its partition.
Sources in Cyprus said the plan was to open up about 1.5 km (1 mile) of beachfront to the public and not some 6 square km (2.3 sq miles) inland, including abandoned hotels and homes, which will remain in a closed-off military zone in place since the 1970s.
Varosha’s population of 39,000 people fled in 1974 during a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.
Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Northern Cyprus on Sunday, with Tatar a candidate.