by Staff Writers
Mari, Cyprus (AFP) July 12, 2011
Anger mounted in Cyprus on Tuesday over the deaths of 12 fire brigade and armed services personnel in a huge munitions blast that sparked severe power cuts on the Mediterranean holiday island.
Frustrated Cypriots were using social networking sites and mobile texts to organise protests against what they perceived as government negligence in not preventing the island's worst peacetime military accident.
A large protest was being organised in the capital Nicosia on Tuesday evening. There were informal protests and candle-lit vigils late on Monday in which the government was called on to resign.
A huge blast on Monday in a seized Iranian arms cache at a Greek Cypriot naval base on the south coast killed 12 people and injured 62, two of whom remained in critical condition on Tuesday.
The power outages come at the height of a scorching summer, with afternoon temperatures in Nicosia approaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
The commander of Cyprus's navy, Andreas Ioannides, was among the dead, as was the commander of the Evangelos Florakis naval base, Lambros Lambrou.
Four other members of the armed services, including 20-year-old twin brothers, and six firefighters also died.
Cyprus entered its second day of national mourning with flags on public buildings at half mast and all government events cancelled.
But the media were in no doubt that the blast was avoidable and the government had a lot of unanswered questions to address about the cache, which US diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks said included cannon shells and tank ammunition.
"It's a crime," screamed the front-page headline in pro-opposition daily Alithia (The Truth).
It said small explosions were recorded at the arms cache several days before the killer blast, but pleas from navy commander Ioannides to remove the containers were ignored.
The English-language Cyprus Mail called it a "criminal error," while squarely putting the blame on Christofias.
The paper said in an editorial that it was a "disaster that could have been avoided if our country was run by a less incompetent president."
The independent Politis daily ran with the headline: "Criminals: 12 dead and the economy in darkness because of criminal apathy."
Top selling newspaper Phileleftheros summed it up with the words: "Crime and tragedy."
At a news conference, government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou was asked why the government had held on to the cache -- piled in the open and exposed to the elements -- and not got rid of it.
The official Cyprus News Agency said he told journalists the "position of the government... was the material not to be kept in Cyprus, so it made specific proposals to the Security Council and other countries involved."
It added that the government suggested the cargo be given to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to handle, "a proposal that was not accepted" and to Malta, "a suggestion for which there was no answer."
"There was also a proposal from Germany and the government sought a mandate from the Security Council because it was a matter of security and didnt get any response."
The Vassiliko plant, which accounted for almost 60 percent of the island's electricity supply, was devastated by the force of the blast and is expected to remain out of operation for many months.
Electricity Authority of Cyprus chairman Charis Thrassou warned the cost of repairs was likely to run to well over a billion euros ($1.4 billion).
The EAC said Tuesday various areas across the island would receive rolling two-hour power cuts "because of a lack of capacity," but added it would try to assure uninterrupted supplies to airports, ports, hospitals, and industrial and tourist areas.
With residents urged to save energy and water to try to ensure businesses, hotels and industry keep going, the Cyprus Energy Regulatory Authority issued a decree making it compulsory to use generators where available.
Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides said talks were underway with Greece and Israel to obtain mobile generators to help the resort island cope with the peak holiday season.
Loss of power supply also prompted the closure of desalination plants, but CNA quoted Paschalides as saying "there had been an arrangement concerning desalination plants so that there will be a continuous flow of water."
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Japan quake makes 2011 costliest year: Munich Re
Berlin (AFP) July 12, 2011
Japan's earthquake in March is set to make 2011 the costliest year to date for natural disasters, reinsurer Munich Re said on Tuesday, although the number of deaths globally is relatively low so far. Total global losses from natural disasters for the first six months alone were $265 billion, easily exceeding the $220 billion recorded for the whole of 2005, previously the most expensive year ... read more
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