Greek Cypriot police at Nicosia's Ledra crossing thwarted a barricade breach by Turkish Cypriot protesters on Saturday, as demonstrations against the checkpoint shutdown continued on both sides of the divided island.
Law enforcement officers in the Republic of Cyprus blocked Greek Cypriot demonstrators Saturday morning at the Ledra checkpoint, as riot police a few steps away came face to face with Turkish Cypriot protesters who gathered on the northern end of the crossing also known as Lokmaci.
According to police, some 350 protesters gathered on both sides of Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world, took part in demonstrations against a government order by the Republic of Cyprus in the south to close a number of checkpoints in response to the coronavirus threat.
Police said there were around 200 Greek Cypriot protesters in the south and some 150 demonstrators in the north, who took part in a demonstration on Saturday between 11:30am and 1:30pm, all demanding that police officers who were positioned in the middle remove traffic barricades and step aside.
At one point, a group of protesters from the north attempted to break through safety barricades, with riot police pushing back as crowds of protesters on both sides chanted peace and reunification slogans.
Videos from the protest showed Greek Cypriot police making use of pepper spray against Turkish Cypriot protesters, who had gained ground and attempted to unite with Greek Cypriot fellow demonstrators who were standing metres away in the south.
The demonstration was organized to protest a government shutdown of several crossing points in the UN buffer zone, also known as the green line, with activists calling it “excessive” with political motives and the administration insisting it was a temporary measure in order to better manage a potential public health risk.
Police officers who managed to hold the line on both fronts on Saturday had been given orders to block protesters from crossing to and from either side, exactly one week after droves of Greek Cypriot protesters broke through the barricades with one demonstrator later getting arrested following a physical altercation with a Greek Cypriot soldier.
'Cyprus Police won’t allow anyone to take law in their own hands by causing a disturbance, hitting and cursing at law enforcement officers who are carrying out their duty'
The demonstrator, who is a member of Unite Cyprus Now, a bicommunal peace activist group, is facing assault charges as well as unlawful assembly and causing public disorder.
Members of the public in the south criticized the activists for defying police orders, while several groups took the issue further and went on evening marches in favour of shutting down all checkpoints permanently.
On Wednesday evening, some 300 Apoel football fans marched downtown towards the Ledra checkpoint, chanting slogans including “hands off our soldiers,” “federalists stand down, Cyprus is Greek,” and “shut down the crossings.”
A similar gathering took place on Friday evening, with representatives from nationalist party ELAM taking part in what was described as a “demonstration beyond political party affiliation” that called for all checkpoints to be shut down permanently.
UCN: resist against closure of crossing points and partition
Unite Cyprus Now said Saturday's protest was organized by a number of groups as a peaceful demonstration.
UCN wrote on Facebook that the coronavirus "knows no borders and no checkpoints" and called on Cypriots to "resist against closure of crossing points and partition."
"It is clear to us by now that closing only four Green Line crossings out of nine is a litmus test to assess people’s reactions for a full closure of all crossings, a step before permanent partition."
"We hope it is clear by now that we will not allow you to turn back the clock. We have every right to resist against the division of our island and its people," UCN said.
Reports said several Turkish Cypriot protesters were taken to hospital after Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and batons to push them back.
A video showed the moment when pepper spray was used to disperse the crowd, with protesters booing the police and quickly getting back to their positions to condemn the behaviour.
An official police statement said a total of four officers were injured during the protest, with one law enforcement official getting medical treatment after he was struck by a Turkish Cypriot protester who was holding a metal sign.
Police Chief Kypros Michaelides said he “strongly condemned the incident and attacks against police officers,” adding that authorities were carrying out an investigation and would prosecute any person found to have committed an offence.
“Cyprus Police is responsible for maintaining public order and safety and won’t allow anyone to take law in their own hands by causing a disturbance, hitting and cursing at law enforcement officers who are carrying out their duty,” Michaelides said.
A Greek Cypriot protester recently took to Facebook to accuse police of attempting to prosecute him for taking part in the previous demonstration. The peace activist wrote an open letter to the attorney general alleging he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by an officer in uniform and that police are trying to build a case against him.