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Ahead of Geneva talks, Cypriots march for peace

Greek Cypriots march peacefully during a reunification rally along the medieval walls circling the divided capital Nicosia

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Thousands of Cypriots from both sides of a dividing line splitting their island marched for peace on Saturday, ahead of informal talks in Geneva next week on the future of negotiations.

With some holding olive branches, people walked in the bright spring sunshine around the medieval walls circling the capital, Nicosia.

The routes stopped at semi-circles on either side, at barbed wire thrown up decades ago when conflict split Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

“Cyprus belongs to its people,” demonstrators chanted, holding placards in Greek and Turkish.

Activists also called for the opening of checkpoints between the two sides, which have effectively been sealed for little over a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic in a disruption to the lives of thousands used to more regular interaction between the two communities after restrictions were eased in 2003.

“The world is going though extraordinary times and sometimes people have been using this excuse to justify the closure of crossings, and on such a small island with no land borders with anywhere else,” said Kemal Baykalli, a member of the grassroots platform Unite Cyprus Now, one of many organisations that participated in Saturday’s event.

“What could have been done is open the crossing points for the benefit and welfare of all Cypriots and jointly coordinate the situation, but they didn’t do this,” he told Reuters.

The United Nations has called for informal talks of parties in the Cyprus dispute in Geneva on April 27-29, in an attempt to look for a way forward in resuming peace talks that collapsed in mid-2017.

Prospects for progress appear slim, with each side sticking to their respective positions. Greek Cypriots say Cyprus should be reunited under a federal umbrella, citing relevant United Nations resolutions. The newly-elected Turkish Cypriot leader has called for a two-state resolution.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup, though the seeds of separation were sown earlier, when a power-sharing administration crumbled in violence in 1963, just three years after independence from Britain.

Discussions in Geneva will also be attended by representatives of Greece, Turkey and Britain, guarantor powers of Cyprus under a convoluted system that granted the island independence.

The Turkish Cypriot activists who demonstrated on Saturday were in favour of a federation.

“We need to fix it,” said Baykalli. “We can have a common future and the only way to do this is through a federal arrangement. Its very clear that a two-state solution is not possible.”

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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