Greek Cypriot 'martyr' given hero's funeral

UN peacekeepers on red alert as tension wracks divided island
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The Independent Online
The 26-year-old Greek Cypriot shot dead earlier this week while trying to tear down the Turkish flag was given a hero's funeral yesterday as the political and religious establishment joined forces to halt lethal clashes in the divided island's buffer zone.

In front of a banner that read "Freedom or Death", children aged just three or four applauded with the crowd of thousands as the coffin draped in a Greek flag arrived at Paralimni church with a police band escort, just three miles from the ceasefire line where Turkish Cypriot forces gunned down unemployed builder Solomos Spyros Solomou with five bullets.

While UN peacekeepers were on red alert at the buffer zone in Dherenia, hundreds of members of the Greek Cypriot anti-terrorist squad and anti- riot police were on standby and formed a barricade with their jeeps to avoid a repetition of the clashes on Wednesday in which Mr Solomou was killed after an emotional funeral for another young "martyr" killed just three days earlier.

The police show of force appeared to serve as a deterrent this time for the 40 protesters who turned up at Dherenia and instead sat down to sing Greek protest songs.

"The people are just waking up from a deep sleep of 22 years," since the Turkish army invaded the northern third of Cyprus, said publisher Vassos Ptohopoulos. "The actions will not stop. Every 20 or 30 years we wake up like a volcano, the British have experienced that" when Cyprus was a colony.

Several young Greek Cypriots said they were more than ready to follow Mr Solomou's example. "There are lots of Solomous here. We're all ready to follow him," said Alexis Cosmo, a 25-year-old truck driver from the coastal town of Paphos who is also a refugee from Famagusta like Mr Solomou.

Standing next to bemused Scandinavian tourists, a 20-year-old woman student from Nicosia said she only wished she could join the Green Line protesters, who are almost exclusively male.

"I will never believe Kyrenia is lost for ever. All the people of my age believe that," she said, referring to the picturesque harbour town which is firmly in the hands of Turkish Cypriots. Her mother's house is there, but she has never seen it.

The old men huddled at a distance in a coffee shop were less impressed by the semi-state funeral being accorded to Mr Solomou, who many in his home town remembered as a "good boy but a bit simple".

As the bikers paid tribute with a deafening revving of their engines the older generation agreed that the government had not done enough to stop the escalation since a symbolic Berlin-to-Kyrenia bikers rally last Sunday that triggered the worst violence on the island in more than two decades.

"There must be something behind all this, behind what the bikers started, and it can't do us any good. We can't possibly fight the Turks this way," said a farmer, referring to what some are already calling the Cypriot intifada.

Inside the church, Archbishop Chrysostomos, normally a Hellenistic firebrand, called for "some calm, for the sake of the mothers", but he still urged the Greek dignitaries present to "help us sing the Greek national anthem in Kyrenia".

The Cypriot president, Glafcos Clerides, who attended Wednesday's funeral, was not to be seen at the funeral last night. Neither was Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who had earlier said he would be there for Mr Solomos's burial. Both apparently stayed away in an attempt to cool nationalist passions.

Mr Simitis is to fly to the island today instead to boost morale and join a Cypriot national council meeting