Naval Base Blast Victims Laid To Rest
Funerals are going on all day today to bury the victims of the July 11th naval base blast and hundreds of mourners are attending the services of the twelve men - naval officers, sailors and firefighters - who are now honoured as national heroes.
During the funeral of the director of the base Lambros Lambrou in Larnaca's Agiou Georgiou Kontou Church, the grieving family rejected condolences from AKEL politicians, DIKO MP Marios Garoyian - and government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou on behalf of President Demetris Christofias. Lambros Lambrou's mother tearfully flicked her wrist in dismissal of their condolences, turning her face away and lifting her eyebrows and chin in a silent, but emphatic 'no'.
In footage carried live by church-owned Mega television channel, the only politician whose tribute was welcomed with applause was MP Zacharias Koullias, who has spoken out strongly against the government. Last night, Koullias said that this disaster has "Christofias' name on it," in comments on Sigma TV's '60 Minutes'.
Calls for the president to resign are increasing amid demonstrations against the government and allegations of criminal negligence in the events leading up to the deadly explosion on July 11th. The president has met the public outcry with silence, a tactic that has added fuel to the furious criticism of his administration.
This morning, Attorney-general Petros Clerides announced that there would be a police investigation into the blast - said to be three kilotons - which happened just before 6am. He refused to give any indications of a deadline for the investigation, saying that police have to bring an airtight case to court.
Meanwhile, rumours are flying that minister of defence Costas Papacostas is destroying evidence - including documents from naval base commander Andreas Ioannou warning of the danger from 98 containers with munitions which were stored on the base in 2009. Papacostas resigned a few hours after the explosion, but still holds his position until the government decides on his replacement.
The containers had high explosives in them, and have been sitting in the open, stacked closely together, since they were confiscated from the Monchegorsk cargo ship for violating UN sanctions. The ship was carrying the arms illegally from Iran to Syria.
Accounts from eyewitnesses at the naval base and from local communities described the containers as bulging out at the sides from pressure building up inside them amid temperatures up to 40 degrees Centigrade.
If a cover up is in progress, then it is being carried out in public as accounts of document shredding in the ministry of defence flood into live television programmes on Mega, Sigma and CYBC. MPs, public figures and relatives of the dead men are making telephone calls to journalists to make allegations against the government. Reports that investigators went to dead naval commander Andreas Ioannou's house and demanded documents relating to the case were not confirmed, but appear to have some substance as the source is relatives of the slain man whose burial is today.
The ministry of defence has issued a statement denying that it is destroying any evidence, saying that all incoming and outgoing documents are filed in its archives according to procedure. But it is going to be a long time until the ministry's statements are met with anything other than scepticism and disbelief.
Photo credit: Sigma TV