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Street Symbolizing Ethnic Partition in Cyprus' Divided Capital Closed Again Over Policing Dispute

Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities tore down a barricade Thursday to reopen the divided capital's Ledra Street, a shopping district long a symbol of the island's partitioning. But the celebratory mood quickly soured in a dispute over policing and the street was closed.

Stefanos Stefanou, spokesman for the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, said Thursday night that officials had shut the southern entrance to a U.N.-controlled stretch of the street because Turkish Cypriot police had patrolled inside the buffer zone.

"We have been very clear that violations cannot be tolerated," Stefanou told The Associated Press.

Greek Cypriot police initially described the re-closing as "temporary" but later said the crossing would remain sealed until the dispute was resolved.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish Cypriot officials.

The agreement to reopen the thoroughfare between Nicosia's Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south had boosted hopes for renewed peace talks after years of stalemate.

But even during the festive opening ceremony, many people had cautioned that much remained to be done before Cyprus' 34-year split could be healed.

"The bullet-pocked buildings remind us that there is still a long way to go," Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou said. "Time will tell whether this road will become the avenue for reunification."

The mile-long street in the center of Nicosia's medieval quarter was split in 1964 during an outbreak of communal fighting when British peacekeepers laid barbed wire between the street's Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors. Ten years later, the entire island was divided after Turkey's army invaded after a failed coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Crews had swept away debris, repaved the street, installed lighting and reinforced abandoned buildings along the 230-foot stretch of Ledra Street that runs through the U.N. buffer zone.

Authorities removed Ledra Street's plastic and metal barricades before dawn, and officials from both sides cut ribbons of colored helium balloons to mark the occasion. Hundreds of people had streamed across the buffer zone.

"These are feelings of joy and hope for our common home. Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots ... we hope that the opening of this road opens a window of opportunity to reunify our island," said Andreas Gregoriou, a 45-year-old Greek Cypriot refugee from Famagusta in the Turkish Cypriot north.

Adil Kamil, a 61-year-old Turkish Cypriot refugee from Paphos in the southern part of the island, said she hoped Ledra Street would be the start of reunification.

"We are so happy. Let's hope all the gates open so we can live like before," she said, speaking in Greek.

Hopes for a settlement in Cyprus were boosted earlier this year with the election of a new Greek Cypriot president, Dimitris Christofias, who pledged to restart talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.

The two agreed to open Ledra Street during their first meeting last month and have been preparing for full-fledged negotiations.

Peter Millet, the British ambassador in Cyprus, said that the "political will is there from the two leaders, now they have to turn it into a solution."

Christofias said the next step is to agree on pulling back soldiers manning guard posts on either side of the buffer zone in the capital's center that is ringed by 16th century Venetian walls. He also said he would try to open another crossing point near Limnitis in the island's remote northwest.