Cyprus pledges quick probe of deadly base blast

Associated Press
Protesters run  from tear gas after riot police deployed it during a protest over a fatal blast at a naval base that killed 12, outside of Presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Protesters were stopped by riot police at an inner gate about 100 meters from the palace. Minor scuffles broke out between a few stone-throwing youths and police who fired tear gas, but no arrests or injuries were reported. It was unclear whether President Dimitris Christofias was in the building. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' attorney general on Wednesday said that people in positions of authority will be held accountable for a huge blast at a navy base that killed 12, knocked out a key power plant and struck a heavy blow to the Mediterranean island's economy.

Petros Clerides said twin investigations into Monday's blast will be swift because Cypriots want to see results soon.

The government has been criticized over the way it stored the containers with explosives — seized in 2009 from an Iran chartered ship — that detonated, causing the island's worst military accident in decades.

Thousands marched in Nicosia late Tuesday to protest the deadly blast, and police arrested 20 people during clashes as some of the crowd briefly invaded the presidential palace grounds.

"Surely, there is responsibility to be apportioned and people want to see who is responsible and to what extent," Clerides told reporters. "This investigation ... can't take long."

Cyprus' top lawyer defended the government's decision to confiscate the 98 containers — most filled with gunpowder — from the Cypriot-flagged M/V Monchegorsk that the United Nations said had breached a ban on Iranian arms exports.

The containers were left stacked one on top of the other in an open field at the base for more than two years.

"I don't know who decided to place them, nor do I know who undertook their maintenance. What we all know is that at the end they exploded, resulting in this real catastrophe," said Clerides, adding that the disaster's economic impact will be felt for a long time.

In letters to the Defense Ministry, military officials had previously expressed fears over the impact that the exposure to the elements would have on the containers and the gunpowder. Cyprus Auditor General Chrystalla Georghadji was quoted in an annual report in 2009 as saying that the contents' "composition and reaction to high temperatures is unknown."

Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis said on Wednesday that the blast had caused damage of around €2 million ($2.8 million) to over 700 homes and businesses in villages in a radius of 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the base. There is no damage cost estimate yet on the power plant which will take months to repair, officials said.

Funeral services for eight of the 12 dead that included the island's navy chief, Commodore Andreas Ioannides, were held Wednesday.

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