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Cyprus leader vows 'thorough' probe of killer blast
by Staff Writers
Nicosia (AFP) July 14, 2011

The Cyprus president, faced with mounting public anger, on Thursday promised a thorough investigation into the explosion of munitions at a naval base that killed 12 people and knocked out the island's major power plant.

"The demand of everyone is to find those responsible and apportion responsibility, even if this is from the lowest to the highest level," Demetris Christofias said in his first public address since Monday's blast, which also left one person declared brain dead and damaged hundreds of homes.

"I assure you responsibility will be apportioned and taken," he said in a televised speech, announcing that he had appointed lawyer Polis Polyviou to head the investigation.

Polyviou's remit will be to expedite the police probe into "every aspect and all the circumstances of this tragedy," which has led to widespread power cuts throughout the Mediterranean holiday island.

Only a "thorough investigation," in which people are made accountable, will suffice "to restore the public's trust in the state and its institutions," he said.

The blast, the worst military accident in the country's peacetime history, has enraged the population and generated calls for Christofias to take responsibility himself and resign.

In a third straight night of protests, a crowd of between 3,000 and 4,000 people took part in a rowdy demonstration outside the presidential palace in Nicosia on Thursday.

"We're hoping to come here every day until Christofias resigns," said actress Despina Chrysanthou, an organiser of the protest at which the president was branded a "murderer."

"Christofias get out, you and all the others that govern with you," the crowd chanted.

Costas Tsangarides, addressing the crowd, said: "We represent simple people, no political party, and we're demanding the resignation of the president, the government and the parliament. They all knew what was going on."

Just hours after the explosion which ripped through 98 shipping containers stored in the open air at a field at the naval base near the port city of Limassol, both the defence minister and the head of the National Guard resigned.

Agriculture Minister Demetris Eliades has been appointed temporary defence minister.

Among those killed was the head of the Cypriot navy, Captain Andreas Ioannides, who was reported to have repeatedly denounced the conditions under which the munitions were stored in the open.

Five other military men were killed along with six firefighters.

Christos and Miltos Christoforou were buried in Limassol on Thursday. They died trying to put out a fire before it triggered an estimated 1.5 megaton blast that damaged 730 homes and businesses.

The containers had been at the base since February 2009. They were seized when Cyrus intercepted, under pressure from the United States and other Western nations, a freighter bound from Iran for Syria.

The government has said the president had never been made aware of the risk or dangers posed by the containers being exposed to extreme heat.

Frustrated Cypriots have been using social networking sites and texting all week to organise protests against what they perceive as government negligence in not preventing the accident.

Thousands of people also marched on the presidential palace on Tuesday night, with demonstrators calling on Christofias and others held responsible for the huge blast to be put on trial.

A small group of extremists threw rocks and flares at the gate and fences of the compound, prompting police to respond with tear gas and arrests.

Christofias, who heads the island's powerful communist party, said a small group of "nationalists and ultra-rightists" had tried to "take advantage of human suffering" by "venturing to set the presidential palace aflame."

The events were "reminiscent of traumatic times for the country," he said, referring to a short-lived coup against the president in 1974 that led to the Turkish invasion of the northern third of the island that has persisted to the present day.

Christofias also referred to the economy, which he said was in a "difficult situation" after the loss of the Vassiliko power plant, which provides more than half of the country's electricity.

He said all government services were "on alert to restore the damage done."

As Cyprus withers under scorching summer temperatures, authorities have imposed rolling two-hour power cuts. An Israeli ship has brought 10 small generators to Cyprus while more are expected from Greece, while EU crisis funds are made available.

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Japan quake makes 2011 costliest year: Munich Re
Berlin (AFP) July 12, 2011
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