The Cyprus street opening which almost never was

April 3, 2008

U.N. soldier walks towards Ledra Street  In Cyprus, stepping out of line can be a deal breaker.
Ahead of Thursday’s dismantling of a symbol of the island’s division, it almost ended in disaster.
Balloons were released into the air, champagne corks popped and there were smiles all around when both sides opened the gates to a flood of human traffic at Ledra Street.

 But two hours before the fireworks, Greek Cypriots were in a flap over the movements of Turkish Cypriot policemen, in a spat which could have threatened the reopening of  Ledra Street after about half a century.

    “There was a complication overnight, they installed policemen in the demilitarised zone, but we seem to have overcome the problem now,” a sleepless Greek Cypriot official told Reuters. “I had been on the phone all night.”

    The 80-metre corridor of land linking the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot ends of Ledra forms part of a United Nations corridor of land splitting Nicosia east to west. But like most things in Cyprus, even a few metres of land is disputed, in this case about 10-20 metres of it.

    Arriving more than an hour before the ceremony, I was ushered by smiling U.N. soldiers through an abandoned shopping centre, along a decrepit alleyway with towering mud-brick buildings. Here, only the facades and rusting cast iron gates drawn across archways were standing.

    That is what crossing Ledra would have looked like, had local town workers not engaged in a last-minute sprint to erect scaffolding, and cover them with sheets of bright colours. It all looked rather artificial.

    I was asked to leave because organisers said they were “not ready”. On my way back, a U.N. soldier was talking into his mobile phone. “Does that mean there will be no ceremony?” he barked.

    But 40 minutes later, I was standing among a throng of journalists charting a moment in history not even 10 metres of disputed land could spoil.

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