For the first time in 46 years, the public was allowed access to Varosha Beach in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot region north of CyprusIn a controversial move, unveiled by the unrecognized prime minister who is running in Sunday’s elections.

Hundreds of people marched through a gate run by Turkish Cypriot police on Thursday to walk down a newly paved road that leads to the beach that was the jewel of what was once a major tourist resort in Famagusta. The road was surrounded by police tape to keep pedestrians away from windowless homes and rusty businesses, which were swallowed by decades-old bushes.

Varosha’s Greek Cypriot population fled as the Turkish forces advanced in 1974, when they invaded Turkey after a coup by the supporters of union with Greece. The region was placed under Turkish military control, cordoned off and left to ruin time.

A woman walks down a newly opened street in an abandoned neighborhood of Varosha in Famagusta, Cyprus.

A woman walks near abandoned buildings in Varosha. Photo: Katia Christodoulou / EPA

For some, like a woman wrapped in the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, it was a moment of joy to witness a “historic” moment. But for others, like the Greek Cypriot and Varosha native, Kyriakos Charalambidi, who were watching TV from his home in Nicosia, it was a moment of bitterness and sadness. “Although I expected this, I shuddered as I looked at these familiar places,” playwright Charalambides told The Associated Press. “It is a grief that cannot be comforted … Varosha is lost.”

“It’s a terrible day,” said art historian and archaeologist Anna Marangu, who was 22 when she was forced to flee.

Greek Cypriots protest at the Derinia crossing after Turkish authorities reopen Varosha, a coastal neighborhood in the historic city of Famagusta.

Greek Cypriots protest at the Derinia crossing after Turkish authorities reopen Varosha, a coastal neighborhood in the historic city of Famagusta. Photo: Iacovos Hatzistavro / AFP / Getty Images

Former Varosha residents staged a demonstration late Thursday at a crossing point along the UN-controlled buffer zone to express their opposition to Fatah. The checkpoint – one of nine points Greek and Turkish Cypriots can cross from either side – has been closed on the Turkish Cypriot side as part of measures to counter the spread of Covid-19.

“How can a person not be upset by what he saw today?” Said the Mayor of Famagusta, a Greek Cypriot, Simos Ioannou Press. “Varosha should have been handed over to its rightful owners … This is psychological pressure.”

Nikos Anastasiades, the internationally recognized president of Cyprus, described the move as “illegal”. It has already condemned the move and said it would turn to the United Nations Security Council. Russia has said reopening the beach is unacceptable. No th United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio GuterresAnd European Union foreign policy coordinator Josep Borrell have expressed concern over a measure they said could increase tensions and undermine new attempts to restart talks.

A woman passes by a cordoned off building in Varosha.

A woman passes by a cordoned off building in Varosha. Photo: Reuters

The decision by Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, which only Ankara recognizes, to open a one-mile beach, has strongly condemned the internationally recognized government of the island run by the Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus’ President, Anastasiades, has said that it is a “blatant violation of international law” and UN Security Council resolutions that deem it “unacceptable” for any part of Varosha – maras in Turkish – to be settled by anyone other than its legitimate residents.

But Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials insist that the move is in the interest of everyone and that the rights of Greek Cypriot property owners will not be affected because only the beach is open now. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşolu said an inventory of property is underway to determine what will happen to the rest of Varosha.

The UN Security Council scheduled closed consultations on Varosha on Friday.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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