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Cypriot report Cypriot report
by Euro Reporter
2011-07-15 09:52:56
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Cyprus leader vows 'thorough' probe of deadly Iran arms blast

In his first public address since the Monday morning blast, which also injured 62 people and damaged hundreds of homes, The Cypriot president, Demetris Christofias said "the demand of everyone is to find those responsible and apportion responsibility, even if this is from the lowest to the highest level." "I assure you responsibility will be apportioned and taken," he said in a televised speech, announcing that he had appointed lawyer Polis Polyviou to head the investigation. Polyviou's remit will be to expedite the police investigation into "every aspect and all the circumstances of this tragedy." Only a "thorough investigation," in which people are made accountable, will suffice "to restore the public's trust in the state and its institutions," he said.

The blast, the worst military accident in the country's peacetime history, has enraged the population and generated calls for Christofias to take responsibility himself and resign. The same day the explosion ripped through 98 shipping containers stored in the open air at a field at the naval base, both the defence minister and the head of the National Guard resigned. Agriculture Minister Demetris Eliades has been appointed temporary defence minister. Among those killed was the head of the Cypriot navy, Captain Andreas Ioannides, who was reported to have repeatedly denounced the conditions under which the munitions were stored. Five other military men, including base commander Lambros Lambrou and two 19-year-old twin brothers, were killed along with six fire-fighters.

Christos and Miltos Christoforou were buried in Limassol on Thursday. They died trying to put out a fire before it triggered an estimated 1.5 megaton blast that damaged 730 homes and businesses. The containers had been at the base since February 2009. They were seized when Cyrus intercepted, under pressure from the United States and other Western nations, a freighter bound from Iran for Syria. Christofias made no mention in his speech about whether he knew anything about the situation the containers had been in, nor did he respond to calls for him to step down. The government has said the president had never been made aware of the risk or dangers posed by the containers being exposed to extreme heat. On Wednesday, Attorney General Petros Clerides told reporters that, under the constitution, the president and MPs are immune from prosecution but not cabinet ministers. He said only a court could waive the president's immunity.

Clerides agreed there was a need for accountability. "Certainly there is responsibility to be apportioned and the people want to see who is responsible and to what extent," he said. Frustrated Cypriots have been using social networking sites and texting all week to organise protests against what they perceive as government negligence in not preventing the accident. Some 3,000 to 5,000 people marched on the presidential palace on Tuesday night, with people calling Christofias a murderer and demanding that he and others responsible be put on trial. The generally peaceful gathering was marred at the end by a small group of extremists who threw rocks and flares at the gate and fences of the compound, prompting police to respond with tear gas and arrests.


Rebuilding Cyprus to cost 1 bln Euros

The power blackout caused by the deadly blast at a naval base that knocked out the island’s biggest power station will push the fragile economy deeper into recession this year, as the reconstruction cost of the Vassiliko plant and damages to nearby communities, as well as the impact on the economy in general is expected to cost more than 1 bln Euros. The government will have to resort to further borrowing, pushing the already-high public sector deficit to beyond 7% from the current 6% and the only way to contain the economic impact is to introduce even more drastic cost-cutting measures, as opposed to higher taxation that would infuriate labour unions and businesses. The Electricity Authority of Cyprus is desperately racing against time to get part of Vassiliko back on line in an attempt to restore the devastating damage caused by Monday’s blast of a dangerously stored arms cache at a nearby naval base that killed 12 soldiers and fire fighters. Another soldier is in critical condition with little hopes of survival.

The blast caused a crater 50 metres wide and 20 metres deep, ripping through the 860MW facility and bringing the island’s main power supplier to its knees. But experts believe that the utility will try to repair the damage and gradually restore power supply, initially from the newer gas turbines that were harmed less and later from the older diesel-burning steam turbines. With the damage to Vassiliko initially estimated at 700 mln to 1 bln Euros, a large part of which is insured, help is on its way from the EU Cohesion Fund that is expected to pick up about 50% of the overall cost of the disaster.  Patrick Elston, General Manager of loss adjusters Lindsay Cunningham Cyprus, described the Vassiliko power station as having suffered “a tremendous amount of devastation. The main impact of the blast affected the administration building and the water treatment plants. Whatever was further west of the plant was the nearest to the blast.”

“This will be a slow process to assess the whole damage and will take some time,” Elston said, explaining that his company has five people on site at Vassiliko and at nearby Mari village, hurt most by the blast, visiting a rapidly rising number of homes for damage claims. This team will be reinforced in the coming days with Cunningham Lindsey's specialist power engineers and adjusters.  On the bright side, economist Fiona Mullen believes that the crisis “will create jobs, particularly in the reconstruction, services and supplies sectors, but if we don’t have electricity in the summer our mini tourist revival is doomed.” Economist and opposition MP Marios Mavrides also played down the enormity of the reconstruction cost, saying he does not see that exceeding 1 bln Euros, including claims for damages to nearby villages and homes.

“The economy will underperform and sectors, such as services, will not be at full capacity because of power and other shortages. For sure, we are now in recession,” he said. Mavrides said that beyond the measures that the government and all political parties and social parties are currently discussing in order to bolster the economy and keep it competitive, more drastic cuts in the public sector will be necessary. “Our economy is already heavily burdened with banks contributing to an emergency fund, property taxes rising for the next three years and companies paying in about 1,000 Euros each for two years. The rest has to come from further cuts in the civil service, higher social insurance payments by government employees and lowering the entry-level salaries for new hiring.” The reconstruction cost of about 1 bln Euros represents nearly 5.7% of the gross domestic product, but national output will also be hurt as confidence will remain low and tourism may be affected in the short-term with operators diverting holidaymakers to less-costly destinations where smoother utility services are available.


Navy chief hailed as a hero

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral of Captain Andreas Ioannides, Commander of the Cyprus Navy at Ayia Arsenios church in Limassol yesterday, amid calls for his ‘murderers’ to be brought to justice. Police cordoned off roads and stationed patrol cars, motorbikes and uniformed officers at nearby roundabouts on the highway, to help keep order.
Amid searing temperatures hundreds upon hundreds of people crowded into the church which eventually had to be guarded by a line of soldiers , as it was impossible to allow anyone else inside. This didn’t deter the public though, who flowed out onto the churches steps, surrounding car parks and the approach road. The mood was that of shock, grief, disbelief and anger at the governments handling of the tragic incident, with many calling for those accountable to be brought to justice. The dead man’s father spoke to mourners saying that at the last minute he had decided to share his son’s disappointment in the National Guard.

“I wasn’t going to say anything but finally I decided to speak of my son’s feelings towards the army. He was very disappointed with them.” The liturgy was delivered to those outside via loudspeakers and the crowd was made up of members of parliament, government officials, high ranking representatives of the armed forces from Cyprus, Greece and Germany - soldiers, sailors, police chiefs, relatives and friends of the victim and members of the general public.  Ioannides, hailed as a hero, was referred to as a man with ‘strong family values who was highly respected as the commander of the Cypriot navy and held his position with a great love for his county.’ Thousands of wreaths were brought or delivered to the church and much of the crowd was in tears. Emotions ran high as a members of ruling AKEL, laid their wreaths with many mourners shouting: ‘Murderers. Shame on you’. After an appeal to allow the funeral to go ahead in a dignified manner, the atmosphere became calmer. But applause rang out among the waiting crowds when Ioannides father and son both addressed the mourners. The dead mans son Nikolas said his father’s death was a ‘murder’ which could have been avoided and that those responsible should be held fully accountable and punished accordingly.

He said that the manner of his father’s death and determination to ensure the base was cleared of personnel before he would attempt to leave was not what made him a hero because “he was already a hero”. He added that those responsible had prevented him from ever embracing his father again. He said that the people must take to the streets to demonstrate to show the depth of their feelings. Outside, mourners discussed the tragedy, most with intense anger.

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