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article imageCypriots unite for 'peace' concert on eve of talks

By Clement Melki (AFP)     Jan 8, 2017 in World

Greek and Turkish residents of the divided island of Cyprus gathered Sunday for a "Countdown to Peace" concert on the eve of UN-sponsored reunification talks between their rival leaders.

The east Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

The concert was organised by four media outlets, two from each side of the divided island, and was held in a covered market on the Turkish side of north Nicosia.

It came ahead of talks on Monday between Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades, which is being billed as a historic opportunity to reunite the island.

But the outcome is far from certain and both men, who have already held more than 18 months of negotiations, with each admitting in the run-up to the talks that key issues still need to be thrashed out.

"We are here to bring people together, to bring Cypriots together, to show that we can do it, we can live, have fun, organise events together," said Marilena Evangelou, chief editor of the online edition of the Greek Cypriot daily Politis.

"We are ready. So we send a message to our leaders, to the whole world, that we, the people of this island, we can live together," she added.

Cenk Mutluyakali, chief editor of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeniduzen, said the concert was symbolic of the efforts to bring the two communities back together.

Musicians from both sides of the Cypriot divide performed during the "Countdown to Peace" ...
Musicians from both sides of the Cypriot divide performed during the "Countdown to Peace" event on the eve of UN-sponsored reunification talks

"Music and all types of art forms do not have limits, barricades, religions, they're a universal language that represent multiculturalism and multi-believing. That's what we need in Cyprus," he said.

Around them musicians from both sides of the divide took to the stage to perform songs including The Beatles's "Come Together" to The Police's "Roxanne".

Behind the swaying crowd was a banner that read "Countdown to Peace".

The United Nations is hoping rival Cypriot leaders will overcome the thorny issues and reach a deal in Switzerland, but not everyone is upbeat.

"I'm not very optimistic because I think it will depend on the support of Turkey," said Ismail, a 27-year-old Turkish Cypriot civil engineer.

Nine years after the island was divided in 1974, Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state in the north only recognised by Ankara and where Turkey now deploys tens of thousands of troops.

Their presence is one of the main issues on the table, with Anastasiades wanting the Turkish troops to leave the island and Akinci demanding a continued Turkish military presence.

"We are closer than ever to an agreement," said Greek Cypriot biologist Elena Kamilari, 31.

Sunday's concert was one of several bi-communal events that have taken place in the past few weeks to support the peace process.

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