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Saturday, January 31, 1998 Published at 12:57 GMT



World: Europe

Turkish Cypriots cross the line
image: [ More than 1,000 Muslims are making the pilgrimage to the Greek part of Cyprus ]
More than 1,000 Muslims are making the pilgrimage to the Greek part of Cyprus

More than 1,000 Turkish Cypriots have crossed the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the Mediterranean island to visit an important Muslim shrine in an area controlled by the Greek Cypriot government.

They travelled in a convoy of buses under police escort to a mosque where the prophet Mohammed's aunt is said to be buried.

It was the largest number of Turkish Cypriots to cross into the south since Turkey invaded in 1974 and the island was partitioned.


[ image: At the shrine pilgrims lit candles, prayed and read the Koran]
At the shrine pilgrims lit candles, prayed and read the Koran
About 400 made a similar pilgrimage last year to the Hala Sultan mosque in the southern coastal town of Larnaca.

Greek Cypriots crossed into the Turkish-controlled north twice last year to visit a remote Greek Orthodox monastery.

The pilgrimage to the 19th-century mosque is taking place under the auspices of the UN forces in Cyprus as part of a religious exchange agreement.

It coincides with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

At the shrine, the pilgrims lit candles, prayed and read the Koran while dozens of Greek Cypriot police stood guard outside.

Earlier there was tension at the checkpoint in the divided capital of Nicosia when the pilgrims were confronted by a small group of women carrying photographs of Greek Cypriots missing since 1974.

An activist handed out leaflets in Turkish denouncing the Turkish military presence.


[ image: Rauf Denktash called off talks to reunite the island]
Rauf Denktash called off talks to reunite the island
Tension on the island has increased since UN sponsored talks to reunite the island collapsed last summer and a Greek Cypriot air base - to be used by the Greek air force if hostilities break out - was completed last weekend.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash suspended the negotiations after the European Union decided in December to start membership talks with the Greek Cypriot government.

Denktash has repeatedly threatened to integrate the north with Turkey and has halted contacts between the two communities.

A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state was declared in 1983 in the north, but it is recognised only by Turkey, which keeps about 30,000 troops on the island.
 





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