The trial of eight people charged with negligent manslaughter and neglect of official duty in the deadly 2011 explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base started at Larnaca criminal court this morning but was immediately postponed because one of the accused failed to appear.
Distraught relatives of the 13 men who died in the blast shouted 'Murderers!' at the defendants and police had to restrain them.
The relatives have waited a long time for the manslaughter trial to start. The tragedy took place nine months ago on July 11th, 2011, and the Attorney General had announced his decision for the indictments almost three months ago.
Indictments have been issued against former foreign minister Markos Kyprianou, former defence minister Kostas Papakostas, former army chief Petros Tsalikides, assistant army chief Savvas Argyros, and officer George Georgiades, along with the chief and deputy chief of the fire service Andreas Nikolaou and Charalambos Charalambous and the commander of EMAK, Andreas Loizides.
One of the accused, the former Chief of the National Guard, Petros Tsalikidis did not appear before the court, this morning and the prosecution asked for a month’s postponement to allow extradition proceedings from Greece to be completed. A warrant for Tsalikides arrest has been issued by Cyprus authorities.
A new trial date was set by the court for the 18th of May and a bail of 150,000 Euros was set for each of the accused.
The lawyer, Christos Triantafyllidis, who represents the relatives of the firefighter Panagiotis Theophilou, told Radio Proto that he expects “from someone who served the Republic of Cyprus as Chief of the National Guard, even though he might feel wronged by the Cypriot state, to appear before the Court bravery and fight with all legal means at his disposal to defend himself.”
Triantafyllidis continued that he does not expect President Christofias who hides behind his immunity to show bravery and appear before the Court.
Clerides did not take the recommendation of an earlier investigation by a government-appointed committee led by Polys Polyviou to indict President Demetris Christofias for his personal and political involvement in the deadly explosion. However, lawyers Dimitris Araouzos and Anastasios Antoniou representing the Ioannides family, Christos Triantafyllidis representing the Theophilou family and Lukas Loucaides representing the Heracleous family have pressed ahead with a petition to the Supreme Court to remove the president's immunity. The Supreme Court will start deliberations on waiving President Demetris Christofias' immunity to prosecution at May 3rd.
In earlier comments, former European Court of Human Rights judge Loukis Loukaides said that he agrees with the public inquiry holding President Demetris Christofias mainly responsible. The president's immunity from prosecution should be withdrawn, he said, based on the fact that he knew that the explosives had become dangerously unstable as of September 2010, but did nothing to prevent the danger.
The explosives were confiscated by the state from Iran en route to Syria in January 2009, and were left exposed to the elements at Evangelos Florakis naval base until they exploded on July 11th, 2011. According to the public inquiry, the explosives were not destroyed or removed from the base because of political reasons. Those reasons had to do with the president's assurance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they would not leave Cyprus and would be returned to Iran and Syria.
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