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Our View: Decision to close checkpoints entirely political

The closed Ledra Street crossing point (Christos Theodorides)

“When decisions are taken clearly to protect the whole population of the Republic of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots, severe reactions are not justified,” President Anastasiades said in a written statement as a form of censure of the protests against the closure of four crossing points. He was responding to criticism directed at his government’s decision by political parties and pro-settlement activists that were involved in scuffles with police during protests at the Ledra Street crossing at the weekend.

If the decision had a political element, forceful reactions may have been justified, but this was purely an issue of public health island-wide, he said. This has been the government’s mantra since the ‘temporary’ closure of four checkpoints was announced on Friday, repeated ad nauseam by government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios. There was nothing linked to any political position, he kept saying, presumably in the belief that repetition would make the assertion more convincing. On Tuesday Disy also came out and said there was no political colour to the decision.

After the scuffles at Ledra Street between settlement supporters and police backed by national guardsmen it became more difficult for the government to argue there was no political element to the decision. The video of a man pushing the young national guardsman during the scuffles was played again and again in what was a clear attempt by the government to show the protestors in a negative light. The fact that the man, who went to the police station to confess pushing the soldier was subsequently remanded for two days was indicative of the government’s intentions.

Was there a need to keep the man in custody? He had admitted committing the offence so there was no danger of him influencing witnesses, nor was he a threat to anyone. That he was subsequently charged with assault, causing grievous bodily harm and rioting laid bare the government’s intentions. Under normal circumstances, he would have been charged with affray and sent home; in fact in demonstrations by members of unions or interest groups, much worse has taken place without anybody being charged.

Apart from presenting the demonstrators as troublemakers disregarding a decision supposedly aimed at protecting public health, the government also wanted to deter anyone from carrying out more protests, because it knows its decision was political. Anastasiades had used the coronavirus measures as an excuse to generate more hostility between the two sides because he knew the Turkish Cypriots would be angered by his decision. If he was so concerned about protecting Turkish Cypriots as well as Greek Cypriots would he not have discussed his plans with Mustafa Akinci so there could be a co-ordinated effort to protect people from the virus?

Yet he took the decision on his own and imposed it on the Turkish Cypriots, claiming he knew what was best for them. His decision did not just contain a political element, it was entirely political.



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