Cyprus FM offers to resign over deadly blast

AP News
Posted: Jul 18, 2011 10:31 AM
Cyprus FM offers to resign over deadly blast

Cyprus' foreign minister offered to resign Monday over the explosion of dozens of gunpowder-filled containers at a naval base that killed 13 people and has ratcheted up pressure on the embattled government.

New details on the condition of the containers _ which were seized from an Iranian ship in 2009 _ emerged Monday. Official documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that senior military officials were aware that some of the gunpowder inside one container may have detonated a few days before the powerful explosion.

The July 11 explosion also knocked out a key power station and has sparked nightly protests in the capital as people demand answers from President Dimitris Christofias' government.

The defense minister and top military chief have already resigned over the island's worst military disaster. Some have called on Christofias to go next.

Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said he offered to step down Monday "not out of guilt, but out of political sensitivity."

Kyprianou expressed sorrow for the disaster and for the mistakes that led to it. He said he said he would assist investigators. It was not clear if Christofias had accepted his resignation.

"I hear the people, and I want to contribute as much as I can to restoring credibility to the political system at this very critical time for Cyprus," Kyprianou said.

Some have questioned why the containers were left stacked in an open field at the base for more than two years only a few hundred yards (meters) from a power station that supplied more than half of the island's power. Officials said it will take months to repair the station. Rolling blackouts continued island-wide as the electricity authority struggled to meet demand.

Minutes from a meeting between senior military officers and the then-defense minister a few days before the disaster noted that one of the containers was deformed, possibly because of some of the gunpowder inside had detonated.

Two investigations, including a police-led criminal probe, are currently under way into the disaster.