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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
Turkey opens border to Greek Cypriots
Greek Cypriots queue to cross the border
In April, about 130,000 people crossed the Green Line in one week
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Greek Cypriots will be allowed to visit Turkey from next week for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Mr Erdogan called the move a gesture of good will towards the Greek Cypriot Government, which Turkey does not recognise.

"Turkey is opening its gates to all Greek Cypriots. Starting from 22 May Greek Cypriots will be allowed to enter through Turkish boundaries," he said.

The move came a month after the Turkish Cypriot leadership in the breakaway north of the island introduced a series of measures aimed at improving ties with the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.

We need peace, we no longer gain anything from quarrelling
Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
Turkish Prime Minister

The measures included a relaxing of travel restrictions which allowed more than 130,000 people - one tenth of Cyprus' population - to cross the UN-patrolled "Green Line".

Until now, only Greek Cypriot officials attending international forums have been allowed to visit Turkey.

But Mr Erdogan said under the new measures all Greek Cypriots would be granted automatic one-month visas at the Turkish border.

'Reciprocal steps'

Alternatively, Mr Erdogan said, they could apply for visas at the Turkish Embassy in the northern part of Cyprus.

"We need peace. We no longer gain anything from quarrelling," he said, referring to the prolonged conflict between the two communities of Cyprus, which has also poisoned relations between Turkey and Greece.

"We now expect Greece to take reciprocal steps," Mr Erdogan added.

Residents of the Turkish Cypriot part of the island - which is recognised only by Turkey - are unable to trade directly with the outside world or participate in international forums.

Last month the Greek Cypriot Government announced a series of moves to end the isolation of the north.

It said Turkish Cypriots would be able to trade in the south, and gain access to healthcare and other state benefits available to Greek Cypriots.

EU issue

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the north in 1974, following a brief Greek Cypriot coup backed by the Greek Government.

Thousands of people displaced from their homes have never returned, and earlier this year a peace effort by the United Nations ended in failure.

The Greek Cypriots have signed the European Union accession treaty, paving the way for EU membership next year.

But EU membership will, in effect, apply only in the internationally recognised Greek part of Cyprus if the island is not unified in time for formal membership in May 2004.

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