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Flags, coffee and protests against UDI

Photo: Christos Theodorides

By Evie Andreou

DOWNTOWN Nicosia was flooded with high school students yesterday morning, as they were released from school in order to participate in the protests marking the anniversary of the 1983 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of the breakaway regime in the north.

Chanting slogans and holding Greek and the Cyprus flags, students from all the schools of the capital joined forces at the protest organised by the Pancyprian Students’ coordinating committee (PSEM) at the Orpheas field at 11am.

The students called for an end to the Turkish occupation and for reunification of the island as they handed a declaration to the UN guards at the Ayios Kassianos checkpoint.

“Our enemies are not our fellow right wing, centre, leftists, Turkish Cypriot, Armenian, Latin or other citizens. Our concern is not party and student percentages. We are responding to the occupation. We assert that we do not forget. For us, the youth of this country, parties don’t come first,” the head of PSEM, Loizos Kyriakides said.

The protest, however, was not the only one as other student groups with different opinions staged their own gatherings at the Ledra Street and Ledra Palace checkpoints.

Some students headed towards the Ledra Palace engaged in stone-throwing when they were hit by stones thrown by some others standing at the Rocca bastion. Police said that the incident was brief and that no one was hurt.

It turned out to be a long weekend for most students, though, more so for the teachers, since the protests conveniently took place a day after another school holiday, the Archbishop’s name day.

As every year, students took advantage of the school-free day to enjoy the relative burst of sunshine by taking a stroll around Ledra and Onasagoras streets and the Laiki Yitonia quarter, all brimming with cafes and waiting for the younger patrons.

Others walked down the busy streets enjoying their ice-cream, or were seen exiting a shop with items they had just bought in the bags.

“We already went to the protest, it is over now,” Anna, a 16-year-old private school student said at around noon.

Asked, all of the students seemed to know about the UDI anniversary, but some were not sure where the protest were taking place. One boy said that he felt intimidated by the presence of an extreme right group that had earlier marched down to the Ledra Street check point, so he decided to abstain.

Costas and Andreas, both 15, said that like everyone else they too left school to protest but they had not participated.

Around the corner form the Phaneromeni Church, three students with Cyprus’ flags draped around their shoulders were walking hurriedly towards the centre.

“We were at the protest at the Orpheas field, it is over now, everyone left,” said Marios, 17.

By around 12.30pm, a group of around 200 students holding Greek flags swarmed into Ledra Street and headed towards the checkpoint.

“Don’t just sit at the cafés looking at us with curiosity, get up and join us,” was the slogan they chanted to the patrons, mainly students sitting outside.

The students stopped before the Greek Cypriot police control cubicles at the end of Ledra Street and chanted slogans demanding that Turkish troops leave the island.

After the student leaders delivered their speeches, they staged sit-in protest for about 15 minutes in front of a line of policemen and bewildered tourists who were asking what the protest was all about.

“We will close off the checkpoint symbolically, to mark the anniversary, to condemn the UDI,” said Stavros Zacharia, a member of the University of Cyprus independent students’ bastion.

Some tourists who wanted to cross the checkpoint were discouraged by the students who urged them not to, and had blocked the way. Some left disturbed, others stood intrigued watching the protest.

One of the student leaders announced that a torchlight procession was to take place later this evening, on the actual day of the UDI anniversary, starting from the OXI roundabout and headed to the Ledra Street checkpoint.

“We are here with our fellow students to protest against the illegal UDI and state that we struggle in the streets and not in stadiums, like others do, and we want to tell our politicians that youths are alert and do not forget the illegal invasion,” said Yiannis Loizides, member of the independent movement EFEN.

Even though the UDI anniversary is actually today, the students’ organisations decided to stage their protests yesterday as they said it would be easier to mobilise the students on a school day.

In Limassol, the protests took place on Grigoris Afxentiou Avenue.

The head of the Limassol students’ coordinating committee Panayiota Sioukra said that students send out positive messages both in the country and abroad that they continue to struggle for the reunification of the country and of the two peoples, and that they will not compromise with the occupation.

“I send out a message of friendship, cooperation and peaceful co-existence to our compatriots the Turkish Cypriots for the best interest of our people and of the struggle against the occupation for the reunification of our country,” she said.

The protest ended with songs.

Students in Larnaca started gathering from 10am at the Patticheio municipal theatre holding flags and banners and chanting “Cyprus belongs to its people” and “People united, never defeated”.

“The Greek Cypriot side must stand united and support the negotiations process based on the National Council’s commitments to the international and Turkish Cypriot side,” said the head of the Larnaca students’ coordinating committee Anastasios Nicolaou.

In Paphos, students protested against the UDI and organised an event to honour the students who died at the Polytechnic in Athens in November 17, 1973 protesting against the Greek junta.

The event took place at the Town hall square.

As with every year, all political parties condemned the UDI.

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