Four police officers were injured, and pepper spray used as around 350 Cypriots demonstrated on Saturday against the temporary closure of several crossings on the divided island’s ceasefire line over the coronavirus crisis.
A police spokesperson said four police officers were injured during scuffles with demonstrators in the capital Nicosia while “limited use” of personal pepper spray was deployed to control the crowd.
Police said there were no arrests during the melee as 200 Greek Cypriots and 150 Turkish Cypriots gathered on either side of the Ledra Street crossing in central Nicosia to demand the crossings be re-opened.
Tensions ran high as some protestors – from the northern Turkish Cypriot side of the divide – tried to break through a police cordon blocking the crossing point.
During the protest – organised by pro-peace activist group Unite Cyprus – there were chants of “peace in Cyprus cannot be stopped” and “contain the virus of partition”.
Turkish Cypriot Euro MP Niyazi Kizilyurek told reporters that closing four crossing points was an “unnecessary disruption and politically unacceptable”.
The Cyprus government said the issue will be evaluated on Monday.
Cypriot Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said earlier this week the 28 February decision to close the crossings was not political but due to the fact, there was not enough medical staff to man all the crossings to monitor coronavirus.
The United Nations said on Thursday it was concerned by the ongoing disruption caused to people on both sides.
“While the UN supports all effective measures to address any potential public health emergency, it is imperative for the two sides to coordinate closely in order to provide a comprehensive response,” it said.
Four of the eight checkpoints on the line dividing the island were closed Saturday for an initial seven-day period “for more effective control over the entry points”, Cypriot authorities said.
The move has caused friction between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities with the UN advising both sides to cooperate in a spirit of trust to address a possible health emergency.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has criticised the closure of the crossings, calling it “unilateral” and “unnecessary”.
“This one-sided decision was not a correct decision, it should be revised,” Akinci told Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in a telephone call.
Cyprus has not reported any cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, mostly in China, where the epidemic started in late December.
Akinci urged Anastasiades to “correct” what he called a political decision not based on scientific grounds.
Anastasiades denied that the closures were a political ploy, saying: “We have taken a decision which is based on scientific data.”
It is the first time the crossings have closed since they were first opened in 2003.
UN-brokered reunification talks between Anastasiades and Akinci have been suspended since 2017.