Tensions Rise Amid Naval Blast Inquiry, Protests
Police are on high alert in expectation of island-wide protests amid a tense atmosphere and calls for the government to resign after the deadly explosion at Mari naval base on July 11th.
New fears are arising of clashes tomorrow July 19th at the Presidential Palace in the capital. There will be a march held inside the Palace to mark the 1974 coup and Turkish invastion. This protest will be held at the same time as an anti-government demonstration outside the Palace demanding that the administration step down over the disaster at Evangelos Florakis naval base.
A police spokesman denied information that President Demetris Christofias had refused to allow police to cancel the protest inside the palace. Asked whether allowing the anti-coup protest to go ahead was provocative in the present circumstances, he said no, and that this protest had been held for years. Asked whether the date or time could be changed, he said this was not up to the police.
"If the presidency wants to do this, then we have to do our job," said the spokesman.
DISY party MP Christos Stylianides has appealed to the president to cancel the anti-invasion protest, saying it might add oil to the fire. Cancelling the protest will be seen as a gesture of caution and prevent problems and serious incidents, he said in comments from the House of Representatives.
So far, demonstrations have been predominantly peaceful, with the exception of July 12th when young hooligans threw stones and molotov cocktails at riot police and went a few steps into Palace grounds. Police responded with tear gas and by using physical violence on the 8000 mostly-peaceful protestors.
In a speech two days later, the president blamed the trouble on fascists and extremists, and warned that it would not be tolerated. Since then, up to 10,000 demonstrators have gathered every night outside the Presidential Palace to call for his resignation.
Meanwhile, there is an inquiry into the blast being held at the House of Representatives. The parliamentary defence committee is meeting with the former defence minister and other officials implicated in the explosion which killed 13 servicement and firemen. There are also angry protests being held outside the House by relatives of the blast victims.
At the political party level, there are calls for an emergency government to be formed to replace Christofias' cabinet. All political parties with the exception of AKEL have condemned the government's negligence and involvement in the explosion. EVROKO MP Demetris Syllourist wants an emergency government formed under House President Yiannakis Omirou.
In other developments, Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou has asked to resign for reasons of 'political sensitivity,' according to the Cyprus News Agency.
Power cuts are continuing into the second week after Vassiliko power station was crippled in the explosion. In new information reported on SigmaTV, an explosives expert confirmed that there had been nitroglycerine in the 98 containers which blew up on July 11th. That was one of the reasons for the massive detonation after gunpowder in the containers caught fire, he said. The other reason was the closely stacked metal containers, which essentially created a small weapon of mass destruction. Other explosives experts from Greece participating in an official investigation said that the cause of the explosion was the spontaneous combustion of gunpowder in the container.
The explosives were stored a mere 500 metres away from the destroyed power station.
Ever since the power cuts started, people have been worried about their already-high electricity bill, fearing they may become even more expensive.
According to an electricity authority spokesman, the EAC does not have the authority to raise prices, and the matter will be discussed at the right time with the Energy Authority of Cyprus. For the time being, they are focusing on dealing with the electricity supply crisis, he said in comments to Radio Proto.
The largest power station on the island with a capacity of 800 megawatts, was crippled in the explosion at the Evangelos Florakis naval base on July 11th. At 5:55am, 98 containers with explosives blew up, killing 13 men and sending a shockwave which buckled two of the large fuel tankers at the power station. There was also substantial damage to a new unit which had just been finished and would have supplied a further 200 megawatts.
The containers were confiscated from the Cypriot-flagged MV Monchegorsk in 2009. The ship was leased by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) and owned by Limassol-based company NB Maritime Management. The weapons on board 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 have protested outside the Presidential Palace in the capital, but 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.
Under the intense weight of public pressure, Christofias begrudgingly said that an apology was "a given" and that the government and his office would take its responsibilities on the basis of the investigation's findings.
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.
Recovery from the disaster will be long and hard, particularly in the Larnaca area where many small communities lost loved ones in the explosion.