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Naval Base Blast: Foreign Ministry Top Diplomat Suspended

emiliou suspendedForeign ministry Permanent Secretary Nikos Emiliou has been suspended for 15 days pending an investigation into allegations that he tampered with evidence in the investigation into the deadly blast at Mari naval base.

Emiliou has denied being involved in forging the minutes of a meeting showing that former Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou was concerned over the safety of the 98 containers with seized weapons which blew up on July 11th, killing 13.

The public official said he has given a statement to police involved in the criminal investigation into the accident, and that he has handed over all documents relating to the tragedy.

Emiliou also resigned from the reunification talks negotiating team. His decision was met with dismay by ex-coalition partner Democratic Party (DIKO), which said that the Greek-Cypriot side is losing the important services of an experienced and very capable diplomat.

Meanwhile, the government's investigator Polys Polyviou yesterday announced that public hearings will start on August 29th at 9.30am at the ministry of finance.

Emiliou's is the latest head to roll in the political fallout after the explosion at Evangelos Florakis base. His resignation follows that of Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, Minister of Defence Costas Papacostas, and eventually the entire cabinet, which was reshuffled to reflect a government with a majority of communist-party ministers.

Emiliou's suspension came after a written request from new Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, recently appointed by President Christofias. There have been allegations that the move was prompted by political motives and revenge by AKEL and the president, upset over being blamed by the public for negligence in bringing dangerous explosives to Cyprus and then not taking care of them. But Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou denied that the government had political motives, saying that the official was suspended on the suggestion of Attorney-general Petros Clerides. The inquiry into the explosion does not imply guilt, he said.

The government is still under considerable pressure amid criticism from the public and near-daily protests against President Christofias. Last night, protestors formed a human chain around the Presidential Palace to symbolically show that the investigation will eventually close around the president and Palace diplomats. Thousands of protestors hold the president responsible for the decision to bring munitions confiscated from Iran to Mari and leave them at the naval base for over two years.

The munitions were left there despite repeated urging from the naval base's commander to remove them because they had become dangerously unstable.

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