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Cyprus

Government defends declassification of church plot as antiquities site

Transport Minister Marios Demetriades

Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said on Thursday there is hypocrisy behind criticism of the government for observing the law on the declassification of church-owned plot in Yeroskipou where antiquities were discovered from an archaeological site, following a ruling from the attorney-general.

The government came under fire after a recent cabinet decision to annul a 2014 decree which had designated the plot in question a class B archaeological site after the attorney-general ruled that the move was unconstitutional.

Many accused the government of giving the archbishop favourable treatment to the detriment of the island’s cultural heritage, as the plot in question will form part of a massive tourism complex, and the archaeological excavations were delaying the project.

The cabinet annulled the decree, Demetriades said, because the antiquities department had gone ahead with the designation of the plot as an archaeological site without first obtaining the written permission – as the law demand – of its owner the church. He added that the antiquities department thought that they didn’t need written permission as they were not planning on expropriating the plot but merely declaring it a class B archaeological site.

This is an effort by some to politicise the issue, Demetriades said, and give the impression that declassifying the plot from an archaeological site was due to the reaction of the archbishop.

“This is not true,” Demetriades said. He added that the government had to comply with the ruling of the legal services and the provisions of the constitution.

“I wonder why some people, who are trying to present themselves as the protectors of institutions, are clearly saying in this case that we should have violated the rules of the institutions. I find that there lies hypocrisy in this case,” Demetriades said.

The goal of the government, he said, is not to stop developments but promote them along with the protection of the antiquities.

He added that the antiquities located at the plot will be protected and that the head of the antiquities department has already sent a letter to the town planning service stating that no development can proceed at the plot in question without her department’s approval. Remains of a building dating back to the Hellenistic period (325BC–58BC) have been found on the site.

Demetriades said that there is complete cooperation between everyone involved in this project to ensure the protection of the antiquities.

Archbishop Chrysostomos was not happy over the designation of the plot in question as an archaeological site and had even threatened to sue, as this further delayed progress on the project. He even threatened last month to evict the crew of the antiquities department from the site and demolish their tents.

The planned project in Yeroskipou,provisionally named ‘Eden City’, was proposed in January 2014 by Hungarian investor Sandor Kenyeres’ ATUM Developments Ltd. It will reportedly feature hotels, residences, a marina, a mall, restaurants, flats, an art district, and even a man-made island.

In a statement on Wednesday ATUM said they were in contact with the antiquities department and had already clarified through a public statement in August, their intention to cover part or all of the cost of the excavations.

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