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President Refuses To Resign over Mari Responsibility

christofiasPresident Demetris Christofias has rejected responsibility for the deadly explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari, and refused to resign - a position supported by his Council of Ministers who had a crisis meeting at his home in Makedonitissa last night (October 3rd).

"The President of the Republic does not resign!" Christofias said.

The ministerial-level meeting was held at his home because the Presidential Palace where meetings are normally held was inundated with another of the demonstrations that Christofias has carefully avoided facing since the explosion on July 11th. The place and time of the meeting (9.30pm) raised eyebrows and provoked a comment from MP Zacharias Koulias, who said it was unheard of for a cabinet meeting to be held outside the Palace.

Yesterday, Polys Polyviou, who heads a public inquiry into the explosion, said he holds Christofias, former Defence Minister Costas Papacostas and former Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou mainly responsible both politically and personally for the deadly blast.

Christofias, as head of state, has the heaviest responsibility for the tragedy which took 13 lives, said Polyviou in a press conference in Nicosia.

"I have no doubt that serious criminal charges like manslaughter will have to be investigated by the Attorney-general in connection with all involved, without exception" he said as he was giving his findings in a government-appointed investigation that started on August 28th.

Polyviou declined to go into the matter of criminal charges, which are under the jurisdiction of Attorney-general Petros Clerides. Chief of Police Michalis Papageorgiou delivered the results of their investigation to the attorney-general today. Their findings will not be made public pending the attorney-general's decision on prosecutions, said a police spokesman.

The results of Polyviou's investigation were welcomed by thousands of protestors who demonstrated outside the Presidential Palace last night and vowed to show up every night until the president steps down. In comments to various radio and television shows, the families of the 13 men killed in the explosion also welcomed Polyviou's findings, saying that the wheels of justice have started turning.

Speaking to Sigma TV, the bereaved brother of sailor Kleanthos Kleanthis said that the victims' families are considering asking for the president's immunity from prosecution to be revoked on grounds of treason. He pointed to the evidence in Polyviou's findings that the president neglected to ensure public safety, resulting in the deaths of 13 men. The victims' families would be studying the investigation's findings before taking further steps, he said. According to the constitution a president can only be indicted on charges of treason or mental incompetence, and can only resign on his own initiative.

But members of the president's party, communist AKEL, said the party has its own legal experts studying Polyviou's investigation and that the party disputes allegations that Christofias carries any personal responsibility. In his own testimony to Polyviou's committee, Christofias blamed Kyprianou, Papakostas and the technocrats who run the army and foreign ministry. The only responsibility he admitted to was in appointing his ministers, who have already both stepped down.

Meanwhile, all political parties with the exception of AKEL have demanded the president's resignation or early presidential elections. In political opposition circles, Christofias is now being referred to in the same terms as Nixon and Blair who were both investigated for serious breaches of public trust. There is a debate on Polyviou's investigation and the president's response set for the next plenary meeting of the House of Representatives.

Main opposition party DISY chief Nikos Anastassiades said that Christofias' response to Polyviou's conclusions had disappointed the public and that his conduct was unprecedented in an EU country leader. The president has lost the public's mandate to lead them, said Anastassiades.

Photo: AFP

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