Protesters gathered on both sides of the Ledra Street divide on Saturday to demonstrate against the closure of four checkpoints by the Republic of Cyprus government, a move it said was part of a bundle of coronavirus protection measures but which has been criticized as a measure veiling ulterior political motives.
Hundreds assembled just before noon at the Ledra checkpoint, with masses on both sides of the divide separated by a strong police force and rows of barricades.
Chants in both the Greek and Turkish languages calling for a united, federal Cyprus, among other things. A large banner held by protesters from the north read ‘Anastasiades is running for Taksim [partition], stop him!’, while banners held by protesters on the opposite side of the barricades called for an end to ‘the virus of partition’ and ‘standing against fear and division.’
The demonstration intensified when protesters from the north, who gathered in the Buffer Zone, attempted to break through police lines to cross over to the south, with Greek Cypriot police resorting to spraying tear gas from a very short distance and hitting protesters in the first line with batons.
Turkish Cypriot sources said eight protesters were rushed to a hospital in the north, but are said to be out of danger.
An announcement issued later by police said “Turkish Cypriots gathered in the ‘dead zone’ managed to break the lines of members of the [UN] peace force, pushing policemen of the Nicosia Police Headquarters, who also had stones thrown at them.”
It added that four of its members were injured, while one was transferred to the Nicosia General Hospital after being hit by a metal protest sign.
Police said there was “a limited use of tear gas spray” to deter protesters from pushing through to the south.
Video footage depicting police firing tear gas on protesters north of the Ledra checkpoint was posted on Facebook:
Unite Cyprus Now, one of the organizations that issued the call for the demonstration on Saturday, tweeted that it had called for a peaceful protest that would not include attempts to push through the barricades.
A joint statement issued by several groups and initiatives which had come together to organize Saturday’s event said the protest was held against the “arbitrary and unjustified closing of the crossing points”, the “Republic of Cyprus government’s undemocratic pressure on civil society”, the “public lynch campaign of hate groups against citizens who want to exercise their democratic rights in an EU member state”, and the “resurgence of the nationalist sentiment that has surged in both sides of the island which will eventually lead us to a permanent partition.”
The joint statement clarified that the protesters are not against taking the appropriate measures to protect the public from the coronavirus threat, but noted that “a global health issue, however, cannot be used to create more division, terror and anxiety among the people,” and called for cooperation among the two sides in addressing the health concerns.
UNFICYP spokesperson told media that in response to the recent demonstrations, the peacekeeping force will be stepping up their presence in the area.
The demonstration on Saturday comes one week after the first protest at the Ledra checkpoint in response to the government move which it said would be temporary. The government recently said it would re-evaluate the measure on Monday.
Last Saturday’s protest was also ridden with commotion after protesters gathered on the south side of the crossing broke through police barricades and entered the Buffer Zone.
A 55-year-old was arrested in connection with a physical altercation with a soldier stationed among police lines, an incident which divided local public opinion with condemning the attack against the soldier and others raising questions over the presence of army forces at a civilian event. Two more were later charged.
On Friday, a protester who attended last week’s demonstration said he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a police officer, with the incident caught on tape and parts of it shown in a video leaked to the media.