Pope On Cyprus Visit Urges European Unity Amid Migrant Influx

Pope Francis arrives at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Old Nicosia on his first stop following his arrival in Cyprus on December 2, 2021. – The pontiff, 84, is the second Catholic pontiff to set foot on the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has a Greek Orthodox majority, after Benedict XVI visited in 2010.  (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Pope Francis on Thursday urged unity as Europe faces an influx of refugees and migrants, speaking on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a major destination for people fleeing war and poverty.

“We need to welcome and integrate one another and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us,” said the pontiff, 84, at the start of a five-day trip that takes him to Greece from Saturday.

The pope was set to underscore his message by taking 50 migrants now in Cyprus to Italy, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said, although the Vatican has yet to confirm the initiative.

Francis — on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013 — is the second Catholic pontiff to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI went in 2010.

Speaking in a Maronite church in Nicosia, the pope said “the presence of many of our migrant brothers and sisters” had made Cyprus “a true point of encounter between different ethnicities and cultures”.

The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe that “we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity,” he said.

Later, in a meeting with Anastasiades, he cautioned against nationalist “walls of fear” in Europe and stressed the continent “needs reconciliation and unity”.

Cyprus, a country of one million people, is home to about 25,000 Catholics, including Maronites whose ancestors arrived from Syria and Lebanon and overseas workers from the Philippines, South Asia and African countries.

“We’re such a small minority so it’s great to feel that you belong to a greater family, the Catholic family,” said Eliana Maltezou, 38, holding her one-year-old son and waving a Cypriot flag.

– ‘Vulnerable and marginalised’ –

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.

Only Ankara recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and tensions simmer between the two sides.

The division saw about 200,000 people, including many Maronites from the north, displaced from their homes.

Monica Despoti, 55, whose Maronite village Asomatos is in the north, said the pope’s visit meant “we’re very, very happy and we also have a hope that with his help we can go back to our motherland”.

The majority-Greek speaking south accuses the north of sending migrants across the UN-patrolled Green Line and also says it receives the highest number of first-time asylum seekers of any EU member country.

The pope, who has long called for better protection for migrants, in remarks ahead of the trip described the Mediterranean Sea as a “huge cemetery” for migrants who drowned.

At the church, the pope listened as Nyein Nyein Loo, of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, spoke about the Christian community’s charitable work for migrants.

“Much of our work consists in defending the basic human rights of those in need and of migrant workers,” she said, detailing that many face “harsh and unfair treatment, including unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, verbal and physical abuse and other forms of discrimination”.

Before his departure from Rome, Francis met refugees from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan who had come via the Greek island of Lesbos and now live in Italy.

On the plane, a journalist gave him framed fabric pieces of migrant tents from the French port of Calais with the message: “To all the exiled people who died on the Franco-British border.”

“It’s terrible,” the pope replied, visibly moved.

– ‘Terrible laceration’ –

According to Cypriot authorities, negotiations are underway with the Vatican to organise the transfer to Rome of several migrant families now in Cyprus.

That would repeat a gesture Francis made on Lesbos in 2016 when he returned to the Vatican with three Syrian Muslim families who had fled bombing in their homeland.

On Thursday evening, Francis visited Anastasiades for talks focused on the island’s painful division.

Francis said “the greatest wound suffered by this land has been the terrible laceration it has endured in recent decades. I think of the deep suffering of all those people unable to return to their homes and their places of worship.

“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue.”

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, meanwhile, accused the south of seeking to use the trip to score “political goals against Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.

It was a “source of sorrow for us that Pope Francis will visit Greek Cyprus only,” he said.

“There are two peoples in Cyprus. Not only Christian Greeks but also Muslim Turks live in Cyprus. This is one of the basic realities of Cyprus.”

Four Dead In Cyprus’ Worst Forest Fire In Decades

Trees burn in a forest on the slopes of the Throodos mountain chain, as a giant fire rages on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, during the night of July 3, 2021. – A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island. (Photo by Georgios Lefkou Papapetrou / AFP)

 

A huge forest blaze in Cyprus killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages, police said Sunday, as Greece, Israel and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island.

The Egyptian government said the four dead were agricultural workers from the North African country, while Nicosia vowed in a tweet to “stand by the victims’ families in the face of this tragedy, offering every support”.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire broke out Saturday afternoon and swept through the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave.

“Everything was a nightmare and pure hell here, the village was surrounded by fire,” said Akis Giorgiou, 45, from the hamlet of Arakapas, who had spent a terrifying night there and was relieved on Sunday that his home was spared from the flames.

At least 25 buildings were damaged or destroyed, nine of them in Arakapas, said a local police official.

“It is a tragedy,” President Nicos Anastasiades said about the blaze on Twitter, describing it as “the largest fire since 1974”, the year when the island was divided after Turkey occupied its northern third.

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The blaze had caused loss of life and destroyed property and forest lands, Anastasiades said, adding that “the government will provide immediate assistance” to the victims and their families.

More than 50 square kilometres (20 square miles) of forest and farmland had been destroyed.

Thick gnarled trunks of ancient olive trees, emblematic of the holiday island, were reduced to smouldering stumps.

Firefighters brought the main fire under control on Sunday, authorities said, while warning that strengthening winds could yet propel a resurgence.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the four Egyptians’ charred bodies were found outside the village of Odos in Larnaca district.

Their burnt-out vehicle was found at the bottom of a ravine and the four bodies some 600 metres (yards) away. A policeman at the scene told AFP that they appeared to have fled the vehicle on foot but run in the direction of the wind-fanned flames, in a doomed attempt to escape.

In areas where the fire had been tamed, charred tree trunks were visible on hillsides, while grey ash had replaced yellowed scrub as far as the eye could see in non-forested areas.

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of starting the blaze. He was seen by an eyewitness leaving the village of Arakapas in his car at the same time the fire started there on Saturday, police said.

He could face charges of recklessly causing the deaths of the four Egyptians, police added.

– Extended heatwave –

Anastasiades visited a crisis management centre in the village of Vavatsinia, located a few kilometres east of the blaze, on Sunday morning, before heading to areas ravaged by the flames, according to the CNA news agency.

He said the blaze appeared largely contained but could resurge.

“The high temperatures and the wind are our biggest dangers,” he said.

“The whole situation is under partial control. What worries us is the possible increase of the winds.”

Firefighters were seen along the road leading to Vavatsinia and several helicopters hovered above the fire as a thick grey smoke obscured the sky.

An AFP correspondent in the village of Ora reported seeing several burned out homes.

Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, said on Saturday its “aerial firefighting capacity” had been mobilised, with Italy and Greece sending planes to help.

Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two “Air Tractor” firefighting aircraft.

Israel’s firefighting authority said the planes were due to land in Larnaca, where they would join the Italian and Greek teams and also Spanish and British crews.

Britain, which has military bases on Cyprus, deployed two search and rescue helicopters and was helping refuel Cypriot aircraft.

Cyprus has experienced extended heatwaves and periods of drought in recent years.

In the past few days, the temperature has topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

AFP

Clashes At Cyprus Protest Over Official Graft, Coronavirus Measures

A protester gestures during a demonstration against government corruption and state-imposed COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the centre of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on February 13, 2021. – Cypriot police used water cannon and tear gas to break up a rare protest in the capital, as hundreds demonstrated against government corruption and coronavirus restrictions. (Photo by Christina ASSI / AFP)

 

 

Cyprus riot police used water cannon and tear gas in rare clashes with protesters as hundreds demonstrated on Saturday against government corruption and coronavirus restrictions.

Protesters had gathered at a park in central Nicosia where they were surrounded by dozens of police in riot gear.

Several groups including left-wing and anti-fascist activists and trade unions had used social media to call for the protest, citing “state authoritarianism” and corruption — notably over a controversial “golden passport” scheme that was scrapped last year.

Organisers and protesters also voiced anger over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has battered the Cypriot economy and triggered stringent lockdown restrictions.

 

A man and woman tend to a demonstrator lying on the ground during a protest against government corruption and state-imposed COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the centre of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on February 13, 2021 (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

 

Olivia Patsalou, a 37-year-old who is looking for work, said she was mainly protesting over the passport affair and “extreme” coronavirus restrictions that were making it harder for her to find a job.

She said she had hoped for “a peaceful demonstration to show our dissatisfaction with the government, with how it’s handled every scandal and how it’s handled the coronavirus situation”.

Some protesters beat drums or shouted in the face of the police, who moved in from several streets to block the demonstrators.

Those present at the start of the protest included people with young children and at least two people in wheelchairs, as well as young men and women in black hoodies and balaclavas.

 

Riot policemen detain a demonstrator during a protest against government corruption and state-imposed COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the centre of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on February 13, 2021. (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

 

“I wasn’t expecting (the police) to be so eager to exert force and violence,” said Patsalou.

One woman was seen lying on the ground suffering from the effects of tear gas, and a man in a wheelchair had to seek refuge in a block of flats.

Another protester was later treated by paramedics after being knocked to the ground by water cannon.

Police told AFP that eight people were arrested in the protest, which was held in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

The Kathimerini local news website said people were fined for breaking Covid-19 restrictions.

Most protesters were wearing masks, an AFP journalist said.

 

A mask-clad demonstrator argues with a riot policeman over another protester lying on the ground, during a protest against government corruption and state-imposed COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the centre of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on February 13, 2021.  (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

 

‘They want us to shut up’

Cyprus in January unveiled a series of measures to tackle corruption, several months after Al Jazeera aired a documentary exposing alleged abuses in the controversial “golden passports” scheme for foreign investors, sparking widespread public anger.

The Mediterranean island scrapped the scheme last year and two senior politicians resigned, although they denied any wrongdoing.

The scandal came on top of the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 35,000 people and killed over 230 across the divided island.

The Republic of Cyprus has begun cautiously easing its national lockdown following a decline in the spread infections that peaked after Christmas.

 

Demonstrator scuffle with riot policemen during a protest against government corruption and state-imposed COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the centre of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on February 13, 2021. (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

 

Andreas, a lawyer and part of the organisers’ legal team who declined to provide his surname, told AFP that people from across the political spectrum were taking part in the demonstration.

“The government has lost legitimacy after the passport scandal and they are using the pandemic as a reason to stop protests,” he said.

“We think that the right to protest is the basis of our democracy, and the epidemiological situation allows people to protest” safely, the 26-year-old added.

But, he said, “they want us to shut up”.

Cyprus Leader Ready To Attend UN Meet On Ending Deadlock

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government’s Press and Information Office (PIO) on January 11, 2021, shows UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute (R) meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades (L) and ministers at the presidential palace in the capital Nicosia. (Photo by Stavros IOANNIDES / PIO / AFP)

 

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told a UN envoy Monday he is ready to attend an informal conference involving Britain, Greece and Turkey to end a deadlock in peace talks, officials said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.

There have been no official UN-sponsored negotiations on the island’s future since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Britain, Greece, and Turkey –- collapsed in July 2017.

UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, on her second visit to Cyprus since December, held talks on Monday with Anastasiades before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

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“During the meeting, the President of the Republic expressed his readiness to participate in the informal five-party meeting,” Cyprus government spokesperson Kyriacos Koushios said.

“He also expressed his expectation that the… meeting will lead to a substantial resumption of talks, with the aim of reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he told reporters.

Lute had told Anastasiades that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intended to convene a five-party conference in February.

Guterres is hoping to get the three governments more involved to build momentum.

In a report to the UN Security Council this month, Guterres said the parties had expressed a willingness to attend an informal conference under his auspices.

“I intend to invite the sides and the guarantor powers to this informal meeting as soon as practicable in 2021,” Guterres said.

Guterres also acknowledged “scepticism” on the prospects of peace talks resuming has risen on both sides of the divided island.

In November, rival Cypriot leaders held a “break-the-ice” meeting at which they promised to back a UN-led peace push involving the outside powers.

It was their first and only meeting since the Ankara-backed Tatar was elected leader of the breakaway north in October.

Tatar was elected on a hardline platform of seeking a two-state solution for Cyprus, rather than a bi-communal federation.

The two men have acknowledged their positions on the way forward are “far apart”.

Britain, Greece and Turkey act as guarantors of the island’s sovereignty under the treaty that gave Cyprus independence from British rule in 1960.

Cyprus To Shut Hospitality, Malls For Holiday Season To Curb COVID-19 Spike

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government’s Press and Information Office (PIO) on December 9, 2020 shows Cyprus’ Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou (C) giving a press conference at the Amphitheatre of Shacolas Educational Centre for Clinical Medicine in the capital Nicosia, announcing new measures tackling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Stavros IOANNIDES / AFP / PIO

 

Cyprus announced Wednesday it would close hospitality venues and shopping malls and ban church attendance over the Christmas holidays to curb a spike in coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced the tighter restrictions following an emergency cabinet meeting.

Rapid antigen tests throughout Cyprus had shown that “the virus is everywhere, in all cities, villages, districts”.

He said bars, restaurants, cafes, and other hospitality venues must close, as will shopping malls, while church services will go ahead without attendees and after-school tutorial centres are also banned.

The new measures will be enforced from December 11 to 31.

High schools will resort to remote learning from December 14, Ioannou told a press conference.

“With these measures, we are trying to prevent a deterioration of the situation before the epidemiological picture becomes irreversible,” he said.

Cyprus on November 30 imposed a nationwide eight-hour night-time curfew from 9 pm while hospitality venues were ordered to shut at 7 pm.

These measures were to expire on December 13 if the Covid-19 situation improved but Cyprus registered a high of 419 daily cases on Tuesday and five deaths, making it the deadliest day on record.

In the nine days since the government introduced new measures, 2,903 cases were reported, while another 20 hospital patients lost their lives to Covid-19.

At the end of September, Cyprus had only 1,755 cases, but the number of infections has since shot up to over 13,000.

“In recent days there has been a deterioration in epidemiological indicators, the worst since the pandemic broke out,” said Ioannou.

The minister agreed there was “fatigue” among the public over the rules and restrictions, which was harming their effectiveness.

Cyprus had largely kept a lid on the pandemic by introducing an early lockdown in March that was gradually eased from early May.

Health authorities blame the spike on Cypriots flouting hygiene rules, including on mask-wearing and social distancing.

Face masks are mandatory indoors and outdoors, except at home, while household gatherings are limited to 10 people, as are weddings and funerals.

The Cyprus Covid-19 case tally is now at 13,286 and 68 deaths.

-AFP

Cyprus Olive Farmer Vows Change To Face Climate Challenge

A caretaker at an olive grove prunes the branches of an olive tree, in the village of Akaki in central Cyprus on November 12, 2020. (Photo by Amir MAKAR / AFP)

 

Standing in her olive grove in Cyprus, Elena Sampson sighs at the sight of hundreds of barren trees and vows to tackle climate change after another scorching year.

The first of several heatwaves in 2020 descended in May, the flowering season for her 2,500 olive and citrus trees in Akaki, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the Mediterranean island’s capital Nicosia.

“This year the heatwave struck at the exact time that the olive trees were flowering, and it was not just a heatwave of a couple of days,” said the 38-year-old Greek Cypriot.

“We were watering, watering, but we didn’t manage to save the blossoms,” Sampson said. “This year, maybe 40 (of her 1,200 olive) trees had olives — Nothing! Nothing!”

Harvested for millennia on Cyprus, olives are at the heart of the local culture and trees now cover 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of its land, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

More than 19,000 tonnes of olive oil were produced in 2018.

But olive oil and other sectors of Cypriot agriculture face the threat of climate change, Adriana Bruggeman, an associate professor at the Cyprus Institute, told AFP.

“Not only droughts, but also increasing temperatures and heatwaves affect the flowering, fruit set and ripening of crops,” she said.

Although olive trees are generally resistant to drought, they do need water during the flowering season in the spring.

But Bruggeman warned that some semi-arid areas of Cyprus now face the threat of becoming fully arid by 2050 because of global warming.

Official figures show average annual rainfall has fallen to 470 millimetres (18.5 inches) since 1971, down from 540 mm (21 inches) between 1902 and 1970.

On top of that, heatwaves are growing more common and have squeezed the duration of springtime.

This year alone, the mercury soared above 42 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on May 17 and the island experienced its highest ever recorded average daily temperatures for July, August and September.

– Change is ‘doable’ –

“We know that climate change will make the region hotter and drier… We need to adapt to this change and make our agricultural and semi-natural ecosystems more resilient,” said Bruggeman.

Sampson is ready for alternative methods and new ways.

“If you have healthy soil, you have less run-off, less erosion, more water retention, which means we can try to fight droughts,” said Sampson, who took over the family farm two years ago.

A 2016 study based on a worst case scenario by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that 43 percent of Cyprus’ territory is in “critical’ danger of desertification.

Sampson, who largely avoids tilling her land — a practice that leads to soil erosion and carbon loss — says she will install drip-irrigation and plant other crops between the olive trees. Also, she will no longer use pesticides.

“I think it’s doable to make that change, I want to be part of that change,” she said.

Bruggeman likewise noted that “improved practices, such as no-till systems, rotation with legumes and application of organic fertilisers could improve productivity”.

AFP

Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France To Hold Military Exercises From Wednesday

A handout photo released by the Greek National Defence Ministry on August 26, 2020 shows military personnel of the Hellenic Navy during a military exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, on August 25, 2020. Handout / GREEK DEFENCE MINISTRY / AFP.

 

Greece said it will launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, the focus of escalating tensions between Athens and Ankara.

The joint exercises south of Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete will last three days, the defence ministry said.

The discovery of major gas deposits in waters surrounding Crete and Cyprus has triggered a scramble for energy riches and revived old rivalries between NATO members Greece and Turkey.

Tensions ratched up another notch when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10.

“Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have agreed to deploy a joint presence in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the quadripartite cooperation initiative,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

“The tensions and instability in the eastern Mediterranean have heightened disputes on issues concerning maritime space.”

Turkey said on Tuesday it is ready for talks with Greece without preconditions over the row.

The olive branch came ahead of an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday at which Greece is expected to press the bloc to slap biting sanctions on its historic regional rival.

But EU nations would prefer to avoid irritating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shuttled between Athens and Ankara in a bid to temper the rhetoric and get talks back on track.

Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told the two countries to defuse the row or risk sparking a “catastrophe”.

AFP

Cyprus Welcomes First Tourist Flights Since March

Yiannis Karoussos (C), Cyprus’ Minister of Transport, Communications, and Works, greets with an “elbow shake” the first passenger arriving from Israel at Cyprus’ Larnaca International Airport on June 9, 2020. – Cyprus opened back up for international tourism on June 9, with airports welcoming visitors after an almost three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with a bold plan to cover health care costs for visitors. Iakovos HATZISTAVROU / AFP.

 

Cyprus welcomed its first tourists after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday with flights scheduled from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria.

Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with a transmission rate below one and a very low mortality rate.

The Mediterranean island’s main airport at Larnaca reopened to passengers for the first time since a ban on commercial flights was imposed on 21 March.

“After two and a half months, the connectivity of our island with 19 other countries returns. Cypriot airports open with optimism with the first flight arriving at Larnaca from Israel,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos tweeted.

According to the airport’s operator Hermes, five arrivals and five departures were scheduled from Larnaca on Tuesday. The first departure was an Aegean airline flight which left at 8 am for Athens. The first arrival was an Israir Airlines plane from Tel Aviv at 10:30 am.

Paphos airport in the west of the island will welcome its first flights on June 21.

Karousos was at Larnaca to welcome the first visitors Cyprus has seen since early March.

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Normally at this time of year, the island fills with north European tourists drawn by its pristine Mediterranean beaches.

Cyprus came out top in a survey of European beaches published by the European Environment Agency on Monday with 99.1 percent of its beaches boasting excellent water quality.

– Britons, Russians kept away –

Under its exit lockdown road map, Cyprus is initially opening its airports to a select band of 19 countries that are considered low risk.

They include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island’s two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

Sweden, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are also not listed.

All those arriving between June 9 and June 19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they are coronavirus negative.

From June 20, there will be no need to provide a health certificate from 13 of the 19 countries and another six countries will be added to the list including Switzerland, Romania and Poland.

Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on the scientific data.

There will also be temperature checks and random testing of travellers, free of charge, when they arrive on the island.

To attract tourists to the island, the government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for the coronavirus while enjoying a holiday on the Mediterranean island.

Authorities estimate that tourist arrivals this year, which had been projected at nearly 4 million before the coronavirus, will fall by as much as 70 percent, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which generates around 15 per cent of the island’s GDP.

Revenue from tourism generated 2.68 bn euros in 2019, down 1 per cent from the previous year, bolstered by record arrivals of 3.97 million.

Cyprus says it has one of the lowest ratios of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe having tested around 12 per cent of its population.

The Republic of Cyprus has a total of 970 coronavirus cases and only 18 deaths.

AFP

Cyprus To Pay Medical Bill If Tourists Catch Coronavirus

File photo of a man wearing a mask as a precaution against COVID-19. PHOTO: QATAR OUT / AFP.

Cyprus hopes to attract tourists after its coronavirus lockdown by paying the medical costs of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while holidaying on the island, officials said on Wednesday.

The plan was outlined in a letter to tour operators and airlines detailing the measures Cyprus is taking to ensure the safety of its tourism sector.

The letter was made public Wednesday and signed by the ministers of foreign affairs, transport, and tourism.

The Mediterranean island is marketing itself as a safe holiday destination during the global pandemic.

The Republic of Cyprus has reported 939 novel coronavirus cases and only 17 deaths.

The government said it is “committed to taking care of all travellers who test positive during their stay, as well as their families and close contacts”.

It pledged to cover accommodation, dining and medical care if a tourist falls ill with the virus.

The “traveller will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight,” it said.

 ‘Quarantine hotels’

A 100-bed hospital will be available exclusively for tourists who test positive, with more beds available “at very short notice if required”.

An additional 112 beds in intensive care units with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.

Designated “quarantine hotels” will have 500 rooms available for family members and close contacts of patients.

Other hotels on the island will be allowed to remain open if a guest tests positive, but their room will “undergo a deep clean”.

Authorities have forecast a 70 per cent decline in tourist arrivals in 2020.

Tourism earned Cyprus €2.68 billion ($2.94 bn) in 2019 — about 15 percent of gross domestic product — down one percent from the previous year, which was bolstered by a record 3.97 million arrivals.

Cyprus plans to reopen its airports on June 9 to arrivals from 13 countries considered low risk.

These include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island’s two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

Those arriving between June 9–19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they do not have the virus.

That requirement will be dropped from June 20, when another six countries will be added to the approved list, including Switzerland and Poland.

Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific advice.

Officials will administer temperature checks and free random testing of arrivals.

Having tested over 10 percent of its population, Cyprus says it has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe.

“Very few countries worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean, can boast about such statistics,” the letter said.

AFP

12 Injured In Cyprus Hotel Explosion

A grab taken from a video provided by a guest of the Acapulco hotel in Kyrenia (Girne) in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), north of the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia, shows fire and smoke billowing from the site of a military depot which exploded nearby, on September 11, 2019. Ali Akyuz / AFP

 

A string of nighttime explosions at a Turkish military base in northern Cyprus damaged a nearby seaside hotel and injured 12 people Thursday, prompting the evacuation of terrified tourists, officials said.

The blasts rang out at intervals over a three-hour period in the arms depot at the base in Catalkoy, west of the town of Kyrenia, sparking a fire.

The luxury Acapulco Hotel was damaged, with windows shattered and ceilings collapsed, and guests evacuated to a safe area.

Turkish Cypriot authorities said 12 people were injured, two of whom remained in hospital several hours later. A probe was launched to determine the cause of the blasts.

The Kyrenia area on the north coast lies within a breakaway state that Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 but which remains recognised only by Ankara.

The island has been divided on ethnic lines since Turkish troops occupied its northern third in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot coup.

Turkey continues to maintain a sizeable military presence in the north.

Officials in northern Cyprus said on July 1 that a suspected stray Russian missile had exploded just outside the divided island’s capital during an Israeli air raid in Syria, without causing casualties.

AFP

Flooding Kills Three In Cyprus

Divers search a swollen river in Kyrenia, North Cyprus, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

 

At least three people were killed in flooding of the Kyrenia region of northern Cyprus as heavy rains lashed the Mediterranean island, local officials said Thursday.

Tufan Erhurman, prime minister of breakaway northern Cyprus, visited the Ciklos and Dogankoy areas where the three, including an 18-year-old woman, were killed in flash flooding that swept away cars.

“We regrettably lost three people… The search goes on for one other person,” Erhurman told reporters after the bodies were recovered from river beds.

Swathes of Cyprus, divided since Turkey invaded its northern third in 1974 after a coup in Nicosia backed by the junta then ruling Greece, have been hit by storms this week.

Greek Cypriot authorities in the south declared a “yellow alert” weather warning on Thursday after the torrential rains and hailstorms that have pounded the holiday island.

The storms have caused floods, power cuts and traffic chaos as well as damage to property and crops, but no serious injuries have been reported in the south.

The extreme weather is expected to ease by Sunday.

AFP

Erdogan Warns ‘Sea Bandits’ Over Cyprus Energy Exploration

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan/AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday warned foreign oil companies over energy exploration off Cyprus, describing those who defy Ankara as “bandits of the sea” who would face a similar response as its foes in Syria.

Erdogan said in a speech marking the commissioning of a new Turkish warship that exploiting the resources of the eastern Mediterranean while excluding Ankara was unacceptable.

Drilling for hydrocarbon resources off EU member Cyprus is hugely sensitive as its northern third is occupied by Turkish forces who invaded in 1974 in response to a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

The Turkish-populated northern part of the island then declared the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Ankara. UN-backed efforts to reunify the island have so far come to nothing.

“As we made the terrorists in Syria pay, we will not leave the scene to the bandits of the sea,” Erdogan said at the commissioning of the TCG Burgazada, the third home-built corvette combat ship launched by Turkey as part of its MILGEM project.

Turkey has in the last two years waged successful military campaigns in Syria against Kurdish militia and Islamic State jihadists which left parts of the country’s north under the control of pro-Ankara forces.

Foreign energy giants such as ExxonMobil of the US, Italy’s ENI and France’s Total have all said they are committed to energy drilling off Cyprus, in defiance of past warnings from Erdogan.

But Erdogan said: “Those who thought they could take steps in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean in defiance of Turkey have now begun to understand what a big mistake they were making.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to usurp the natural resources of the eastern Mediterranean while excluding Turkey and the TRNC,” he added.

Analysts have warned that the situation is extremely combustible with the risk that one false move could lead to a major confrontation.

In February, a drillship contracted by ENI to explore off Cyprus abandoned its mission after Turkish warships blocked its path.

Cyprus last month invited Total, ENI and ExxonMobil to bid for unclaimed Block 7 in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. Block 10 has already been licensed to ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum.

Texas-based Noble Energy in 2011 made the first discovery off Cyprus in the Aphrodite block estimated to contain around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The discovery of nearby Egypt’s huge Zohr offshore reservoir in 2015 has stoked hopes that Cypriot waters hold further riches.

AFP