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Get rid of the gypsies, say Limassol residents
in Cyprus Weekly, April 19-25, 2002
By Menelaos Hadjicostis
RESIDENTS of Limassol's Turkish Cypriot quarter say they are fed up with unruly gypsy neighbours, whom they accuse of making their lives a nightmare and have urged the Interior Minister to relocate them elsewhere. Residents lashed our during House Refugee Committee meeting Wednesday against what they said were foul-mouthed gypsies whose antics - including taunting young girls - were terrorising the entire neighbourhood to the point that no one dares to venture out of doors at night. Some complained that reckless driving by gypsies had damaged scores of cars, while filth has turned the quarter into a rat-infested slum. One man went so far as to say that gypsies slaughter animals and dump their entrails in the street as food for neighbourhood cats.Not racists
Some residents turned their fire against Interior Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou, who they accused of not following through with promises to get the gypsies to pack up and go somewhere else. Angry area resident Popi Fotiadou said: "We're not racists, but they have turned us into racists. Take them home Mr. Minister, people aren't obliged to suffer like this." Christodoulou said he was not bothered by the remarks because he had lived for months in worse conditions during the Eoka anticolonial struggle. "I've spent ten months in internment camps in which conditions were much worse than those gypsies now live in." Christodoulou told reporters after the meeting. But the Interior Minister softened his words to put residents' minds at ease, pledging tougher policing to get gypsies to heel and start obeying the law. Earlier this week, Christodoulou said the gypsy attitudes are not in step with accepted social behaviour. "It's a fact that gypsies create some problems not because they are undesirable, but their idiosyncratic attitudes do not keep them within the bounds of accepted and established social behaviour," said Christodoulou.
Since August, 2001, 430 gypsies crossed over from the occupied areas, but 100 have since returned to 1,000 more now living there. Central Intelligence Service spokesman Andreas Spatalos said total number of gypsies, Turkish nationals currently living in the government -controlled areas amount to 944. He said some 300 gypsies live in Limassol. Disy MP George Georgiou however, warned that if the situation could get seriously out of hand if authorities do not take immediate steps to allay residents' fears. "I hope I'm proven wrong , but the situation might lead to killings between Greek Cypriots and gypsies," said Georgiou. Christodoulou said that although he does not have hard evidence proving that the occupation regime is behind the recent surge of gypsy arrivals to spark social upheaval, he did not discount outright the possibility. He urged for cooler heads to prevail so as not to tarnish the island's image in Europe and furnish Raul Denktash and Ankara with the excuse to accuse Cyprus of racist tendencies.
Christodoulou has repeatedly said that most gypsies cross over to either collect welfare benefits or return to the occupied areas after earning a little money. But he stressed that gypsies are, nonetheless, Cypriot citizens accorded full rights under the law. New arrivals receive a state allowance each fortnight, which is distributed according to status and age. Each family head receives Cyp 150, dependants over the age of 14 receive Cyp 75, and dependants under 14 get Cyp 45. But welfare handouts are cut off to gypsies who refuse to stay put in residencs they are assigned and pick up work that is found for them. Senior Welfare Department offficials said some gypsies who were given household appliances free of charge to help them settle in, sold off the goods and pocketed the money before returning the the occupied areas. Some even packed off the appliances with them. Meanwhile, another 15 gypsies and Turkish Cypriots, ranging in age from 2 to 43, came through the Ledra Palace checkpoint where they boarded a bus for Paphos. All 15 had been living in occupied Morphou. The gypsies have settled in the Paphos-area villages of Stavrokonnou and Makounta, while the Turkish Cypriots have chosen to live in Polis Chrysochous.
In a bizarre twist, a gypsy man was charged and released following a hit-and-run on the car of Paphos Bishop Chrysostomos in the Paphos village of Emba Sunday. The 20-year old man failed to heed a policeman's directions to skirt the village's central square where a wreath-laying ceremony was in progress. He and two fellow gypsy passengers ran through the police blockade and grazed the Bishop's car causing minor damage. The driver then fled the scene only to be spotted later and taken into custody. The man apparently panicked at the sight of the policeman because he had been driving without proper license or insurance for his old jalopy.
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