Cyprus police clash with demonstrators protesting naval base explosion

10:50, July 13, 2011      

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Cyprus's police on Tuesday clashed with hundreds of young demonstrators trying to storm the presidential palace in protests over Monday's fatal blast that killed 12 people.

The police used tear gas to push back the demonstrators, who had managed to breach an outer gate and reached an inner gate to the hilltop residence overlooking the capital.

Pelting the police with stones and masonry, the demonstrators were part of much larger crowds who took to the streets in all major cities of the island in sympathy with the victims and their relatives.

A total of 98 containers packed with confiscated military explosives and munitions destined for Syria exploded at dawn on Monday at Mari Naval Base on the south coast of Cyprus.

The blast killed Cyprus' navy chief, the base commander and four other base personnel and six fire fighters who were battling a bush fire that preceded the explosion.

Several thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Nicosia's central square marched to the Presidential Palace on the outskirts of the city with banners demanding the resignations of President Christofias and his ministers.

They were venting anger after classified documents dating from August, 2009, showed that President Christofias had instructed the Defense Ministry and the National Guard to continue keeping up to two thousand tons of dynamite and munitions packed in containers.

The containers were stacked in a naval base on the south cost of Cyprus for two and a half years until they went up in a massive explosion at dawn on Monday.

The documents also claimed that for political reasons President Christofias did not want the containers to be moved or otherwise be disposed of to a third country until he concluded an official visit in Syria in 2009.

However they were left in the open under the scorching sun and in humid conditions for 21 more months, which lead to corrosion and bulging, despite repeated warnings about an imminent catastrophe by the navy commander.

More demonstrators are expected on Wednesday when most of the 12 victims during the explosion will be buried.

In a move to reduce public anger, the government announced just before nightfall that it has launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the massive blast in the naval base.

A statement by the government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the decision had been taken on the advice of the Attorney-General.

The spokesman excluded sabotage as a possible cause of the blast and pointed to an investigation aimed at establishing possible negligence in the keeping of the explosives.

He also said that President Christofias would make a proposal to his Council of Ministers on Thursday to launch a second investigation by an ad hoc committee with the aim of probing all aspects of the affair and naming those responsible for the tragedy.

Source: Xinhua
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