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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
The last divided capital
By Dominic Bailey
BBC News Online, Nicosia

'Oxi', or 'No', vote sign in southern Nicosia
In southern Nicosia, campaigning is fierce

Campaigning for the referendum on the reunification of Cyprus appears to be black and white - or rather blue for the Oxi [No] vote and green for the Nai [Yes] vote.

Roadside billboards, graffiti and giant posters draped on skyscrapers in the southern capital Nicosia encourage people to vote one way or the other in the simplest of three-letter terms.

But just as the capital is divided north (for the Turkish Cypriots) and south (for the Greek Cypriots), there are divisions within the divisions.

In southern Nicosia the campaigning is in full force.

Yes and No supporters leaflet passers-by and drivers stuck in traffic jams.

There is little open conflict, but a Yes stall was knocked down overnight and plastered with No propaganda.

On the northern side there is little to suggest there is a referendum happening at all, despite the huge implications for the poorer of the two cousins.

But perhaps such differences are to be expected in this 'Last Divided Capital', as the signs near the Green Line of division describe it.

'Tourists in our own country'

Student Katarina Christophi, 18, considers herself a refugee even though she has never visited the house in the north which her father left behind in 1974.

She is pushing for a No vote on Saturday.

It is not that we don't want a solution, it is just that we don't want this one.
Katarina Christophi

"It is not that we don't want a solution, it is just that we don't want this one," she said.

"It is like we are tourists in our own country. We can go and see it but don't get back what we had with this solution."

Shopkeeper Nicos Nicolaou, who runs the Clarks of England shoe shop, believes a Yes vote will cause more problems for both sides.

"It is almost impossible to find a way for the two communities to co-exist and solve the problems," he said.

He says he has been suffering for the past 15 years as Cyprus has been brought up to meet EU standards with rising taxes - so a Yes vote has to be worthwhile.

But, despite UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's doubts, he believes there will be more chances of reunification in the future, which will be more tempting.

Another shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, said he had not made up his mind.

Security issues, which worry many Greek Cypriots, need to be resolved before he decides.

"What safety are we going to have from the UN or the English so we know we won't have the Turks on us again?" he said.

Painful reminders

Southern Nicosia would not be out of place in many Western European countries.

Familiar commercials brands such as The Body Shop, Puma, Woolworth's Laura Ashley and Next, nestle alongside boutiques in the central, walled old town.

Renovation work backed by UN and US development agencies is in full swing to restore national public buildings, as well as the run down and abandoned buildings in the narrow residential streets.

Checkpoint museum in Nicosia
At some Greek checkpoints there are painful reminders of the past

The key difference is that if you wander north along any of the pedestrianised shopping areas, you will eventually hit the brick wall - or a checkpoint manned by Greek Cypriot troops.

At many of the guard points or checkpoints there are reminders that fuel what resentment exists towards the north.

There are stories on faded posters of sons and daughters missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion, or shot while trying to cross or pull down Turkish flags.

Bare trees are covered with yellow ribbons of remembrance and photos.

One wallside snack bar is aptly named - if a little tongue in cheek - "Berlin Number Two".

Eastward bound

And the comparison is not too far out.

Crossing from West to East in Cold War Berlin as a child felt almost like crossing from a colour film into an old black and white movie - old Trabant cars, drabber buildings and the ever present Russian and East German troops.

Crossing the Green Line checkpoint north at Ledra Palace is another step from west to east.

As if to emphasise the point, a muezzin call to prayer rang out from one of the many mosques in the northern side - echoing around off the large UN compound and through the run-down back streets.

The crossing - through a no man's land sided by the neglected shells of once elegant villas - is not as intimidating as Berlin's was.

Since crossings were allowed last year, there are police at either end - rather than armed troops.

The Turkish side

But despite the current political delicacies, old signs reiterate old divisions.

On the Greek side, a sign from refugees says 'Enjoy yourself in this land of racial purity and true apartheid.'

Market in northern Nicosia

On the Turkish side, large red letters pronounce: 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Forever.'

The old town of the northern side is a quiet maze of streets, just as run down as some in the southern half.

And international money is doing its bit to renovate.

But the fact that there are lower wages and higher unemployment is obvious.

Market stallholder Susan, 40, from Famagusta, says she is voting Yes so that there will be more jobs and her sons will come back from England.

"We have spoken to Turkish Cypriots in many countries and they say they want to come back, but they need jobs," she said. "If this carries on all the youngsters will leave."

She says the Greek Cypriots are much better off, and will be under the EU, which is why so many labourers from the north queue up everyday to cross the checkpoint to work in the south.

"If the Greek Cypriots say No, then no hard feelings, but if this doesn't work I don't think we will get another chance," she said.

The road ahead

But fellow stallholder Mustafa, 50, from Nicosia, says Mr Annan's plan has not been translated and explained to everyone, so people are voting for their own reasons.

"You wouldn't give me a signed blank cheque and let me fill in the amount later, no one would," he said.

We have a solution already: two religions, two peoples living separately and... no danger of war

"That is what we are being asked to do."

He added: "We have a solution already: two religions, two peoples living separately and allowed to cross into each other's city with no war and no danger of war."

Driving past the temporary advertising billboards for Oxi and Nai on the road from Larnaca in the south to Nicosia, a permanent road sign seemed to illustrate the debate a little better - depending on your point of view.

Above the dual carriageway in large letters was Nai, with an arrow for straight on, next to Oxi, with a sign for road closed ahead.

Which lane Cyprus will choose will be decided on Saturday.


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