Bomb damages church in northern Cyprus where reconciliation service had been planned

A bomb exploded before dawn in a Greek Orthodox church in Turkish-occupied north Cyprus on Friday, causing damage but no injuries, authorities said.

The attack followed media reports that Turkish Cypriot extremist groups had vowed to try to prevent services planned next week at the Saint Mamas church to celebrate its namesake's saint's day.

Mehmet Ali Talat, the premier of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, said authorities would press forward with the first service at the church in decades, planned as a gesture of reconciliation between ethnic Turks and Greeks.

Hundreds of Greek Cypriots who fled Morphou, known as Guzelyurt in Turkish, in the wake of a 1974 Turkish invasion had planned to attend the service.

``Measures have been taken so that the service could be held in a quiet, peaceful way and they will continue to be taken,'' Talat said. ``No one has the right to upset our internal peace.''

The church, which has been used as a museum for Orthodox icons since the invasion, was empty at the time of the blast that damaged the main church door, its ceiling and shattered windows of both the church and nearby buildings.

Turkish Cypriot police said they believed a fire bomb was thrown to ignite explosives that had been planted earlier outside the building.

Aristos Katsis, a Greek Cypriot originally from Morphou, urged fellow Greek Cypriots to ``not be cowed by the bomb attack and to attend the service on Wednesday.''

Cyprus government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said the attack ``tends to poison the climate of calm which is necessary for the pursuit of the objective of the reunification of our island.''

Cyprus has been divided into the Greek Cypriot controlled south and the occupied north since the 1974 invasion, which was sparked by an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Earlier this year Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the reunification of the island on the basis of a United Nations plan. The Greek Cypriots rejected it overwhelmingly, saying it did not go far enough to address their concerns about the presence of Turkish troops in the north and restricted the right of all the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who fled from the north in the wake of the invasion to return and to regain their properties. Only Turkey recognizes the breakaway state.