Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has called on Greek Cypriot bikers to be on their best behaviour during Saturday’s demonstration in Dherynia, warning that Turkish anti-protesters would look for an opportunity to use any unruly action as a pretext to start a riot.
Authorities on both sides of the divided island went on high alert Saturday, a day before a Turkish Cypriot runoff election in the north, as Greek Cypriot bikers prepared to gather at Dherynia checkpoint to demonstrate against Turkey in memoriam of Tasos Isaac and Solomos Solomou.
“Regarding the scheduled demonstration this evening at the Dherynia checkpoint following illegal actions on the part of Turkey concerning the fenced town of Varosha, I wish to state the following:” Anastasiades wrote.
'Ankara’s settlers will try to stir up trouble and use as a pretext any so-called violation by all those who will justly gather in the area to defend righteous demands' Anastasiades said
“First, I understand and share completely the bitterness and feelings of frustration regarding the behaviour of Turkey and the occupation regime, and for this we have already taken steps with the UN Security Council as well as the European Council.”
“Second, based on the state's information, Ankara’s settlers will try to stir up trouble and use as a pretext any so-called violation by all those who will justly gather in the area to defend righteous demands on Varosha but also other areas of ours under occupation.”
“For this reason I make an earnest appeal to all those who will participate in the demonstration, asking them to behave responsibly and express their feelings of frustration in a way not to allow Turkish settlers and the Grey Wolves gathered in the area to use any action to achieve Ankara’s aims.”
“Third, at the same time I call on all taking part in the demonstration to strictly comply with health protocols necessary due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Biker demonstrations have been taking place annually every summer, following the killings of Isaac and Solomou in August 1996.
Bikers puzzled over elevated concern
Organizers said they were puzzled over safety concerns on the part of bikers, according to the Cyprus News Agency, saying every year their demonstrations have been uneventful.
But some local media said bikers every August would show up at various checkpoints and block citizens and foreign visitors alike from having access between north and south. Although unlawful, police said blocked access was only brief as bikers went from one checkpoint to the next along the buffer zone. Knews understands this year's August event was pushed back due to the virus pandemic.
The bikers say they carry out annual demonstrations to protest against Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration in the north, as well as pay tribute to their fallen mates.
Isaac was brutally beaten to death by a mob of anti-demonstrators on the opposite side when he stormed into the buffer zone during a huge biker demonstration. Days later Solomou escaped the attention of a UN soldier during another demonstration and was shot dead while climbing a Turkish flag pole.
While officials in the south at the time including the biker organizer had warned against protesters breaching the buffer zone, videos showed leaders amongst the protesters emerging in defiance and saying the protest would go ahead, with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot anti-protesters also gathering on the opposite side and media reporting for days on the anger and frustration existing on both sides.
Following the deaths of the two Greek Cypriot protesters, two Turkish Cypriot soldiers were also shot a month later in revenge, with one being killed and the other seriously wounded.
Local media said Greek Cypriot police will have a heavy presence at Dherynia checkpoint on Saturday evening, with the demonstration set to begin at 7pm and at least 300 bikers expected to show up. There was also an open invitation for other protesters to join in, with some media estimating larger crowds would take part in the event.
Last week, about 250 Greek Cypriot protesters stormed into the buffer zone at Dherynia checkpoint, catching police officers in the south off guard and chanting anti-Turkish slogans, such as “Cyprus is Greek” and “Turks, Mongols, murderers.”
A total of nine suspects were arrested in connection with the incident, but it was not immediately clear how many were released and how many could remain in remanded custody.