Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pope Benedict's visit to Cyprus could start reconciliation process

Could religion be the catalyst for settling the decades-long dispute between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus? That prospect was raised Saturday when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church met with Sheikh Nazim, head of the northern Cyprus-based Islamic Sufi Nagshbandi sect in Greece-controlled southern Cyprus. On a trip that had been billed as nonpolitical, Benedict found a way to meet with Nazim, who had to travel from Turkey-controlled northern Cyprus, according to the Reuters international news service. Cyprus has been split nearly in half since Turkey invaded the island in response to a coup by Greek Cypriots in 1974; a U.N. peacekeeping force patrols a buffer zone between the two Mediterranean countries. The Greece-aligned government in the south is recognized internationally while the Turkey-controlled government in the north is recognized only by Ankara. The European Union only recognizes the southern Cyprus government, complicating Turkey's long effort to join Europe's market. The two religious leaders made conciliatory statements to each other, with Nazim saying Benedict was "a great man" and that he hoped "our hearts are moving in the same direction," according to the Reuters international news service. They met in the Holy Cross Church in the U.N.-guarded buffer zone, Reuters said. In an earlier speech in southern Cypress, Benedict told Archbishop Chrysostomos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cypress, that he wanted everyone to "find the wisdom and strength to work together for a just settlement." But even earlier in the day, Benedict heard charges from Cyprus President Demetris Christofias that churches and heritage sites in the north were being destroyed by Turkish forces, Reuters said. Turkish Cypriot leaders acknowledged some of the damage and said they were trying to restore the historic places, but also complained that Muslim places of worship in the south had been desecrated. On Friday, Chrysostomos accused Turkey of "ethnic cleansing" in northern Cypress, Reuters said.

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