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Fresh protests in the north over bus deaths (update 3)

Thousands of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the deaths of three people – two teenage pupils and their bus driver — killed in an accident last week that was blamed on the darkness and the poor state of the roads.

A general strike was called for Tuesday and hundreds of people gathered outside the ‘prime minister’s’ office demanding the resignation of three officials. Protesters also demanded turning clocks back an hour, in line with the EU.

Reports said there was tension between workers and student demonstrators, and police stationed outside the building. The demonstrators threw stones at the building and tried to break through the police cordon.

Three people – two women and a man – were arrested while three police officers and three civilians, the one a pregnant woman, were injured during the scuffles. Things heated up when police officers used force to prevent people entering the premises and protesters hurled stones at them. The three were released later without being charged.

A student was injured, another protester, a member of the Turkish Cypriot teachers’ union, suffered broken ribs, and a pregnant woman who was kicked was transferred to hospital as a precaution. Another woman fainted and received first aid from medics staffing an ambulance that had been called to the area earlier. Other people filed complaints claiming police brutality.

Turkish Cypriots slammed the authorities on social media for the force they used on students participating in the protest.

The general strike reportedly affected 23 flights at Tymbou airport and some 2,000 passengers. Operations at the airport returned to normalcy at 3.30pm (2.30pm Republic time).

Deputy ‘prime minister’ Serdar Denktash said that some were taking advantage of the pain caused due to the accident. He added that not setting the clock an hour back was for practical reasons and that it was necessary as all administrative and other works are carried out through Turkey. He also criticised all those who did not say anything when that decision was being taken, but who have now turned it into a political matter.

Denktash also commented on the statements of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who said on Monday that he too believes that clocks should reflect winter time. Akinci’s statements, Denktash said, show clearly that the demonstrations serve a different purpose.

Those who wanted to turn pain into a revolution aiming at cooling people’s relations with Turkey and the ‘government’ in a possible referendum, he said, have partly been successful. He added that the ‘government’ would assess everything that has happened. Denktash’s Democratic Party is part of the coalition government along with ‘prime minister’ Huseyin Ozgurgun’s National Unity Party. Both parties are known for their hardline stance on the settlement talks.

Speaking to daily Kibris, Denktash also said that having lost a brother in a road accident, he had gone to listen to the protesters last week but that some had hurled insults at to him.

demo2Like Turkey, the breakaway state did not turn the clocks back in October, which meant that at 7am (6am Republic time), when the pupils were travelling to school, the sun had not yet risen.

The accident happened on the Dikomo to Kyrenia road on Pentadaktylos mountain on November 30.

Two sixteen-year-old girls and the driver were killed when their bus collided with a truck.

Tuesday’s was the second general strike called by unions and the third time people took to the streets to protest.

The strike began at 7am Republic time and people began gathering outside the office of the ‘prime minister’ at 9am.

Trade unionists said that by not applying European winter time, the minority ‘government’ was leading the north into chaos.

The unionists said those responsible for the death of their children have stayed put, noting that the administration, which has not sought to bring anyone to book, ought to immediately request the resignation of the ‘ministers’ of transport, education and labour.

The Solidarity platform, which called for participation in the general strike also demanded policies regarding heavy trucks to change.

In written statement, the platform said “we find before the new door made of sheet metal”, mocking the fact that in front of the main entrance of the office of the ‘prime minister’ a wall of sheet metal has been put up.
Akinci said on Monday that clocks in the north should be aligned with European winter time and set an hour back, as confusion reigned in schools over what time the bell should ring to start lessons.

Rather than turn back the clocks, the Turkish Cypriot administration on Saturday said schools and public offices would open 30 minutes later, at 8.30am rather than 8.00am.

The new rules apply for December, January, and February.

A meeting of the north’s ‘council of ministers’ scheduled for Tuesday was called off.

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