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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cypriots Brace As Tensions Run High

DHERINIA, Cyprus -- Hundreds of police formed a human chain along the UN-patrolled buffer zone in eastern Cyprus to prevent further violence after the funeral late Friday of a Greek Cypriot killed in protests against Turkey's occupation of the divided island.


Witnesses said many of the Greek Cypriot police were in riot gear with helmets and shields and armed with teargas and batons. Barbed wire, trenches and roadblocks barred access to the area where two Greek Cypriot men were killed in anti-Turkish demonstrations this week.


Tension was running high in the scorching afternoon heat. In villages youths dressed in mourning black gathered outside coffee houses. Some were on motorbikes with blue and white Greek flags strapped to the back.


The government appealed to the Greek Cypriot community for restraint.


"We recommend to the Cyprus people coolheadedness and self-restraint," spokesman Yiannakis Cassoulides told reporters in the capital Nicosia.


This week saw some of the bloodiest clashes on Cyprus since Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 after a brief coup engineered by the military government then ruling Greece.


Tasos Isaac was beaten to death by a group from the Turkish Cypriot side in the UN-controlled buffer zone Sunday.


His emotionally charged funeral Wednesday, attended by President Glafcos Clerides and the island's archbishop, inflamed passions and led to further violence. Solomos Solomou, 26, was shot dead by security forces in the Turkish-occupied enclave as he tried to remove a Turkish flag on the edge of the buffer zone in the eastern village of Dherinia.


Police sources said a post-mortem performed on Solomou on Friday showed he had been hit by five bullets in the neck, leg, heart and abdomen. The bullets came from two guns.


The United States accused the Turkish Cypriot side of using disproportionate force in trying to quell the protest.


Unarmed Hungarian and Austrian peacekeepers were reinforced by British UN soldiers from Nicosia and a platoon from the Argentine contingent.


On the northern side of the buffer zone a mainland Turkish army officer told Reuters: "War or peace, we are ready for both. Sensible people think of logic, not feelings. I hope they don't try anything silly again today. In any case, we are ready."


Entrenched bitterness between the two communities has not been eroded by time and attitudes on both sides have hardened with this week's violence.


"The past few day's events have shown that they do not want us, they do not want peace. They want all of Cyprus," said Gunay Dalgakiran, 54, a Turkish Cypriot coffeehouse owner in northern Nicosia.


"If they attack us every day and after every funeral, they will receive the correct response. There is no nation in the world that will allow their territory or flag to be taken by others," he added.


In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis cancelled plans to attend the funeral of Solomou. He will fly to the island Saturday instead to boost morale and join a Cypriot national council meeting.