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Cyprus leader promises probe into deadly munitions blast

NICOSIA: Trying to quell public anger, Cyprus’ president promised that two investigations into an explosion that killed 13 people at a naval base would determine responsibility from “the lowest to the highest level.”

But Dimitris Christofias didn’t specify Thursday how high that responsibility would reach, speaking for the first time since visiting the site briefly Monday after the explosion.“I assure you that responsibility will be apportioned and will be assumed,” he said in a nationally televised address.

The Cyprus defense minister and military chief have already resigned over the island’s worst military accident in decades, which also knocked out a key power station.

Christofias Thursday appointed legal expert Polys Polyviou to conduct an independent probe into the blast, which will run in conjunction with another, police-led criminal investigation. Greek and French experts are assisting police investigators.

Many have accused the government of negligence over the way dozens of gunpowder-filled containers that detonated Monday had been stored since being confiscated in 2009 from an Iran-chartered ship the U.N. said had breached a ban on Iranian arms exports.

Thousands marched in Nicosia Tuesday to protest the blast, and police arrested 20 people during clashes as some broke into the presidential palace grounds. Another protest is planned for Thursday evening.

Christofias said “the full investigation and unraveling of the tragedy” will help restore shaken trust in the state.

But the communist-rooted president warned against “nationalist, extreme right-wing groups” exploiting public pain to provoke violence.

Christofias said that the government still has to grapple with very complicated reunification talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots as well as prepare to take over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency in July 2012.

Greece and Israel are supplying power generators to help Cypriots cope with power outages.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 15, 2011, on page 9.

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