Cyprus protest over deadly blast at navy base

Cyprus protest over deadly blast at navy base

12 July 2011

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Cyprus — Thousands of Greek Cypriots have marched on the presidential palace in Nicosia in protest over the deaths of 12 people in a blast at a navy base.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators who blame government negligence for the explosion at the Evangelos Florakis base on Monday.

The dead included the head of the Greek Cypriot navy and six firefighters.

More than 60 other people were injured when the cache of seized Iranian munitions blew up.

It is believed a bush fire ignited the explosives.

The powerful blast badly damaged Cyprus’s largest power station leading to rolling power cuts across the island that officials warned could last for months.

As public anger at the incident swelled, police said a crowd of up to 5,000 converged on the palace compound and hung a banner on the gate saying “(President Demetris) Christofias is a murderer and must go to jail”.

All will be investigated thoroughly and responsibility will be apportioned where it is due”, Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou.

Witnesses said protesters were urging the police to join them – unsuccessfully.

Stones thrown

Some youths then broke a lock on the gate and the crowd poured into the compound, witnesses said.

Police let them pass as far as another gate which was blocked by more police with gas masks.

After more chanting most people began to disperse, but a group of youths near the gate began to throw stones and police responded with tear gas.

There were no reports of arrests or injuries, although some people were overcome by tear gas.

Much of Cyprus’s media also rounded on the government on Tuesday.

The pro-opposition daily newspaper Alithia (The Truth) carried a front page headline: “It’s a crime.”

The English-language Cyprus Mail blamed Mr Christofias for the disaster, describing it as a “criminal error”.

The main headline in the independent Politis read: “Criminals: 12 dead and the economy in darkness because of criminal apathy.”

The damaged Vasiliko power plant supplies about 60% of the island’s electricity.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said on Tuesday a police-led criminal investigation would run alongside another inquiry to be carried out by a committee appointed by President Christofias.

“All will be investigated thoroughly and responsibility will be apportioned where it is due,” he said.

It was the Mediterranean island’s worst peacetime military accident.

The dead included the head of Cyprus’ navy, Andreas Ioannides, along with the commander of the naval base, Lambros Lambrou.

Cyprus’s defence minister and military chief resigned over the incident.

About 100 containers – most packed with gunpowder – had been stacked in an open field at the navy base since 2009.

They had been seized from a ship sailing from Iran to Syria in violation of UN sanctions against Tehran.

It was while firefighters tackled a small fire in the storage area on Monday morning that the explosion occurred.

The blast was so powerful that it smashed windows, tore off roof tiles and blew in doors to more than 240 homes within a 5km (three-mile) radius.

Health Minister Christos Patsalides said doctors from Israel were due to arrive to help treat the injured, many of whom are in a serious condition.

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