Ghost town at centre of Cyprus dispute reopens

The disputed holiday resort at the centre of growing tensions in Cyprus has reopened to the public, Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday.

Once one of Cyprus’ main tourist attractions, Varosha has been abandoned since a Turkish military intervention in 1974 partitioned the island following a Greek-inspired coup attempt. The northern third of the island has since been governed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not internationally recognised. 

On Tuesday, Prime Minister of Northern Cyprus Ersin Tatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Varosha would once again be made accessible just days before presidential elections scheduled in the territory on Sunday.

Tatar, as a close ally of Ankara, is running against incumbent Mustafa Akıncı, who has taken a more conciliatory stance towards reunification of the island through a federal political solution.

But property in Varosha would be returned to former Turkish Cypriot residents, Anadolu quoted Tatar as saying in comments that are likely to further escalate tensions with his counterparts on the south of the island.

On Wednesday, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades condemned the reopening as an “illegal action” that violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Repeated efforts to reach a solution over the island’s future have stalled, including U.N. sponsored talks between 2015 and 2017. But the recent discovery of natural gas off Cyprus’ coast in the eastern Mediterranean has added new significance to the island’s status.

Cyprus claims exclusive access to the energy reserves, but Turkey has increasingly sought to assert its own and Northern Cyprus’s claim to the surrounding waters.