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NICOSIA, Cyprus – Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets of ethnically divided Nicosia on Thursday to protest huge hikes in the prices of electricity, fuel and other goods sparked by the sharp devaluation of the Turkish lira.
Holding banners and chanting slogans decrying the hardship besetting blue-collar Turkish Cypriots, protesters ended a march organized by a coalition of trade unions near the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north's parliament to voice their disgruntlement.
Turkish Cypriots use the lira as their official currency and its devaluation at around 40 percent against the dollar has hit them hard by severely diminishing their purchasing power. For example, electricity prices have shot up 50 percent since February while the price of imported goods has almost doubled.
Protester Kemal Gucveren told The Associated Press that the crisis is Turkey's doing and no fault of Turkish Cypriots who should be left to decide their future for themselves.
Turkish Cypriots declared independence nearly a decade after the island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes the breakaway north, and has propped up its economy to the tune of 500 million euros annually to cover a budget shortfall.
Turkey also keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north. Although Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, only the internationally recognized south enjoys membership benefits.
Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce President Turgay Deniz said Turkish Cypriots have no choice but to depend on Turkey and to use its currency since Ankara bankrolls all major infrastructure projects and acts as a conduit for trade and commerce with the rest of the world.
"Everyone was in shock because no one expected the devaluation of the Turkish Lira to be at this level," Deniz told The Associated Press in an interview. "Everyone expected a quick recovery and now they're waiting to see how low it will go."