(RTTNews) – Hundreds of Greek-Cypriots took to the streets in capital Nicosia on Tuesday to protest a massive explosion that occurred at an arms dump in a naval base a day earlier.
Monday’s explosion at the Evangelos Florakis naval base located between the southern coastal cities of Limassol and Larnaca had killed at least 12 people and injured more than 60. It also caused extensive damage to a nearby power station, leading to rolling power-cuts across the island nation.
Some 5,000 demonstrators marched to the presidential palace in Nicosia, blaming the government led by President Demetris Christofias for negligence over the explosion.
Police used tear gas to disperse the marchers after they attempted to storm the presidential palace. However, there were no immediate reports of any injuries or arrests despite violent clashes between protesters and the police.
The explosion occurred at an arms dump in the naval base where weapons and munitions confiscated from an Iran-bound Syrian ship were stored. Cypriot authorities seized the vessel and its cargo in 2009 as it violated a U.N. arms embargo imposed on Tehran.
The confiscated ordnance, comprising 100 containers carrying mostly gun power, was reportedly stored in an open field at the naval base since it was seized nearly three years ago. The explosion is said to have occurred when firefighters were battling a bush fire near the arms dump.
The 12 victims of the blast included Cyprus’ Navy chief Andreas Ioannides, commander of the naval base and senior naval officer Lambros Lambrou and about seven fighters. Besides injuring 62 others, the explosion caused extensive damage to the nearby Vassilikos power plant leading to disruption in power supply. Even though it is not clear what caused the blast, authorities ruled out the possibility of sabotage.
An official three-day mourning was declared in Cyprus following the incident. The government has sought help from other nations to assist the country’s police, armed forces and the National Guard in the investigation.
Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said a committee appointed by President Christofias would investigate the explosion along side a separate police-led criminal probe. “All will be investigated thoroughly and responsibility will be apportioned where it is due,” he added.
Cyprus was divided into Greek-Cypriot South and Turkish- Cypriot North after Turkey invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974 to counter a coup plot aimed at uniting the island with Greece. The two sections are separated by a 116-mile-long buffer zone littered with mines.
Although leaders of rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot sections have launched U.N.-mediated re-unification talks, they are currently deadlocked over some complex issues, including the settlement of property disputes, future governance of the island and security guarantees for the return of refugees.
Turkey has refused to recognize the Greek section of ethnically divided Cyprus, and is seen as a major stumbling block in the reunification talks. Greek-Cypriot leaders accuse Turkey of pushing for a two-state solution to re-enforce its influence over the island.
by RTT Staff Writer
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