by Staff Writers
Nicosia (AFP) July 15, 2011
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, faced with growing public protest, apologised on Friday over a navy base munitions blast that claimed 13 lives and knocked out the island's biggest power plant.
Christofias waited three days before addressing the nation about Monday's tragedy, which also injured more than 60 people and damaged hundreds of homes, and came under harsh press criticism and on the street for not apologising then.
"Because there has been talk about an apology during the president's address, the government's and the president's apology should be considered a given, and they are a given," Christofias told reporters on Friday.
"Furthermore, I wish to call on everybody to keep a low profile and to restrain from any statements of animosity."
On Thursday night an unprecedented 10,000 people gathered outside the presidential palace to call on Christofias to resign, and many who addressed the crowd expressed anger that he had not apologised for the island's worse peacetime military disaster.
"We're hoping to come here every day until Christofias resigns," said actress Despina Chrysanthou, an organiser of the peaceful protest at which the president was branded a "murderer" and "traitor" and called a "disgrace."
In a speech, plastics company employee Costas Tsangarides 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."
Leaked documents in the media indicate that at least five ministers were made aware that the 98 shipping containers holding the munitions, piled up in the blazing sun at a naval base near Limassol, could explode.
The government has said the president was never made aware of the risk or dangers posed by the containers being exposed to extreme heat.
Among those killed was the head of the Cyprus navy, Captain Andreas Ioannides, who was reported to have repeatedly denounced the situation.
Christofias again repeated his determination that the probe will reach every corner of government, including the presidency.
"It will reach to the very top right to the president of the republic. There will be absolute accountability for the tragic incident."
Lawyer Polis Polyviou has been appointed to expedite the enquiry that will run parallel to the ongoing police investigation, and said everyone involved in the matter will be interviewed, even the president.
His remit is to probe "every aspect and all the circumstances of this tragedy," which has led to widespread power cuts throughout the Mediterranean holiday island.
Speaking to journalists on Friday, Polyviou said the widespread anger is the result of the tragic events and the malfunctioning of the political system.
"If we wish to be honest, this is something our politicians and all of us should admit," he was quoted by the official CNA news agency as saying.
"The healing of the wounds must begin with an incorruptible and correct finding," he added.
Six firemen and seven armed services personnel were killed by the blast.
On Friday, the National Guard said soldier Antonis Charalambous, 19, had become the 13th victim, dying of head injuries. His funeral will take place on Saturday in Limassol.
The English-language Cyprus Weekly newspaper said Christofias "should do the honourable thing, admit that he does not have the makings of a leader and let someone else lead this unfortunate country."
Independent Greek daily Politis said it was "unbelievable and outrageous" that the fate of the "deadly cargo" had been discussed at official level for more than two years.
It said firemen were led like "lambs to slaughter" because they thought they were battling a normal blaze.
The containers had been at the base since February 2009. They were seized when Cyprus intercepted, under pressure from the United States and other Western nations, a freighter bound from Iran for Syria.
The explosion also took out the key Vassiliko power plant, which provides more than half of the country's electricity.
As Cyprus withers under scorching summer temperatures, and with a shortage of private generators, authorities have imposed rolling two-hour power cuts.
An Israeli ship has brought 10 generators to Cyprus while more are expected from Greece.
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Cyprus leader vows 'thorough' probe of killer blast
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 fir ... read more
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