Cyprus FM formally resigns over deadly blast

AP News
Posted: Jul 19, 2011 1:11 PM
Cyprus FM formally resigns over deadly blast

Cyprus' foreign minister on Tuesday became the second cabinet member to resign in the wake of the explosion of dozens of gunpowder-filled containers at a naval base that killed 13 people and has shaken public confidence in the government.

Official documents obtained by The Associated Press showed an explosives expert warning five months before the blast that the gunpowder could become unstable because of the effect of the weather on the containers that were confiscated from an Iranian ship in 2009.

Moreover, the documents show that Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou had said that both Iran and Syria were pressuring Cyprus to return the containers.

Kyprianou, who initially announced his intention to step down on Monday, told reporters that his resignation was dictated by his "conscience and ethics" and would help ongoing investigations into the island's worst military disaster. He said he did not accept President Dimitris Christofias' appeal to stay.

"I also believe that it helps the president of the republic and makes it easier for him to make his decisions, take initiatives and proceed with a course of action that circumstances dictate," Kyprianou told reporters in a brief statement after meeting with Christofias.

The July 11 explosion has prompted nightly protests in the capital with some demonstrators calling on Christofias to step down. The defense minister and top military chief have already resigned.

As the initial shock of the massive blast wore off, many began to question 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 electricity.

Officials said it will take months to repair the station. Rolling blackouts continued island-wide as the electricity authority struggled to meet demand. Greece and Israel have offered generators, while Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north of the divided island are also supplying electricity from their own grid.

Minutes from a Feb. 10, 2011 meeting on what to do with the containers show an explosives expert warning the gunpowder could spontaneously combust or detonate because of the impact of time and changing weather conditions on the containers.

Military officials were also aware that some of the gunpowder inside one container may have detonated a few days before the powerful explosion.

The Cypriot-flagged M/V Monchengorsk was suspected of transporting the gunpowder from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza through Syria.

Kyprianou had said that Syria and Iran had pressured Cyprus to return the seized containers, but that the island's European Union partners had praised the Cypriot government for its handling of the affair.

Kyprianou had also asked that gunpowder samples be sent for laboratory testing and for a search to begin for possible buyers of the explosives.

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

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said President Christofias had not been briefed on the containers' storage conditions or of any dangers posed by the gunpowder.