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Naval Blast Investigation: First Unofficial Findings

larnaca explosionExperts from Greece, the UK and Cyprus said that the deadly explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base was caused by spontaneous ignition of gunpowder in the 98 containers confiscated from the Monchegorsk ship in February 2009.

The experts' initial findings have been reported to the ministry of justice, which convened a meeting with the ministry of the interior, ministry of commerce, fire service, police, civil defence, and the electricity authority.

New safety measures were decided on for the crippled Vassiliko power station, which was critically damaged in the blast on July 11th. A fire department vehicle equipped with a special spray foam will be permanently located at the power station in case of any new fires in the damaged electricity facility. And police presence in the area has been boosted after two people were arrested for trying to steal metals.

At 5:55am on July 11th, 98 containers with explosives blew up, killing 13 men and taking out the island's largest power station, Vassiliko. The containers were confiscated from the Cypriot-flagged MV Monchegorsk, leased by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and owned by Limassol-based company NB Maritime Management. The weapons were en route to Syria in breach of UN sanctions and were being investigated for links to Iran's defence and nuclear industries.

A few hours after the blast, the minister of defence and national guard chief both resigned, and since then, calls for President Demetris Christofias to resign have grown louder and louder. In the days since July 11th, thousands of demonstrators - up to 10,000 a night - have protested outside the Presidential Palace in the capital, but so far he has shrugged off the public's demands for his resignation. After a meeting with the council of ministers, lawyer Polys Polyviou was put in charge of an investigation into the deadly explosion, and attorney-general Petros Clerides launched an investigation through the police.

Devastation to local communities

There was an estimated two million euros in property damage in the area, and residents have begun to complain about health problems, including red, itchy eyes. According to Father Petros from Psematismenos village, there are also complaints of breathing problems.

The electricity supply has been badly affected, with power cuts of up to four hours per day in some areas of the island. Recovery from the disaster will be long and hard, particularly in the Larnaca area where many small communities lost loved ones in the explosion.

In a unanimous decision, council leaders (mukhtars) of the eight small communities in the area said they will not accept any more industrial plants in the region. The formerly-undeveloped coastline from Limassol to Larnaca is now chock-full with two power stations, a cement factory and a large oil processing plant being built by Vitol. For Mari, Kalavasos, Skarinou, Psematismenos, Zygi, Tochni, Choirokitia and Pentakomo villages, this industrial development is a double-edged sword which brings benefits in employment but threats from pollution and destruction of the beautiful environment around them.

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