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Divided Cypriots unite to preserve ancient Famagusta

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"The value Famagusta holds for world heritage is greater than all those things that have separated us for so long," he added. "I sincerely hope that this [initiative] can prove a steppingstone to the opening of the city to Europe and to Cyprus as a whole."

Oktay Kayalp, Famagusta's Turkish Cypriot representative, agreed that a common front is needed to help the city that he sees as a historic bridge between East and West, Christianity and Islam.

The political atmosphere was transformed following February polls, when Greek Cypriots rejected their hard-line president and voted in moderate President Demetris Christofias. For the first time in decades, both sides have conciliatory leaders determined to restart peace talks that collapsed four years ago.

Famagusta lies on the internationally unrecognized, Turkish-controlled northern half of the island, which foreign experts say lacks money and expertise to preserve the monuments. Greek Cypriots, who head the island's internationally recognized government, generally frown at unsanctioned intervention in antiquities in northern Cyprus, which they do not have access to. For more than three decades, none of Famagusta's 45,000 former Greek Cypriot residents have enjoyed access to their homes in new Famagusta, a fenced-off ghost town known as Varosha.

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece. Some 180,000 Greek Cypriots and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced.

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