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Outrage Over Report That Police Blame Mari Blast Victims

andreas ioannidesPublic fora are crackling with outrage in reaction to Politis newspaper's report that the police investigation into the explosion at Mari alleges that two of the victims of the blast were responsible for the deaths of 11 other victims.

The report is based on a leak from Attorney-general Petros Clerides' office.

Clerides received police chief Michalis Papageorgiou's findings on October 4th and is set to decide which charges will be sent to the criminal courts. According to Politis, the attorney-general is studying five main charges: manslaughter, criminal neglect leading to death, grievous bodily harm, abandonment of duty, and loss, destruction of army material due to neglect.

Fourteen people are named in the investigation. The main figures held responsible are former defence minister Kostas Papakostas, former foreign minister Markos Kyprianou, former army chief Petros Tsalikides, suspended deputy army chief Savvas Argyrou, suspended colonels Georgios Georgiades and Lambros Lambrou, fire service chief Andreas Nikolaou, deputy fire service chief Charalambos Charalambous, and director of the emergency rescue service Andreas Loizides. 

Implicating dead men

According to the report, the police investigation also places responsibility on two men who died in the July 11th blast; Commodore Andreas Ioannides and naval base commander Lambros Lambrou.

"I believe that (the deceased)...knew of the existence of the containers and their contents and did not take preventative measures to avoid an explosion or evacuate the naval base," said investigator Christakis Mavris who is quoted in the report.

polys polyviouThe findings are very different to those of a public inquiry into the deadly explosion, which found that the victims of the blast died while heroically fighting the fire that broke out in the 98 containers that detonated, killing 13 and injuring 62. The inquiry, led by barrister Polys Polyviou (right), found that the navy were not informed about the containers' contents, which came under the jurisdiction of the army. Polyviou disagrees completely with any attempts to lay the blame at the victims' door, he said in his findings.

In the aftermath of Politis' report, indignation poured out in television shows and websites from politicians and the public.

"I disagree completely and shame on those who blame the heroes," said one commentator on Politis' site.

"Don't talk about the dead...may their memories live on for aeons," said another commentator.

"The mistake Ioannides and Lambrou made with the other 11 heroes is that they battled a monster and they didn't run away like chickens, like the others who pass around responsibilities from one to the other," said another commentator.

Independent investigators should have been appointed

Former European Court of Human Rights judge Loukis Loukaides told Sigma TV that the dead men could not speak for themselves, and it was entirely wrong to hold them responsible. He said he agrees with the public inquiry holding President Demetris Christofias mainly responsible. The president's immunity from prosecution should be withdrawn, he said, based on the fact that he knew that the explosives had become dangerously unstable as of September 2010, but did nothing to prevent the danger.

The former judge - who is respected for calling a spade a spade - reiterated his position that the attorney-general should have appointed independent criminal investigators for the police inquiry.

In a statement on October 9th, Police chief Michalis Papageorgiou said that his investigation referred to the dead mens' roles and there were no plans to prosecute them.

The explosives were confiscated by the state from Iran en route to Syria in January 2009, and were left exposed to the elements at Evangelos Florakis naval base until they exploded on July 11th, 2011. According to the public inquiry, the explosives were not destroyed or removed from the base because of political reasons. Those reasons had to do with the president's assurance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they would not leave Cyprus and would be returned to Iran and Syria. Iran and Syria requested the return of the munitions, which were confiscated because they breached UN sanctions on weapons trading.

DIKO MP Nikos Papadopoulos urged Attorney-general Petros Clerides to make a statement about the police investigation and assure the public that the victims would not be prosecuted. DISY MP Averoff Neophytou said that the president's responsibility should not be forgotten, and that dead men should not be blamed.

AKEL spokesman George Loukaides said that the communist party would be waiting for the attorney-general to make his decision on prosecutions and the results of the court cases.

Fallout from the explosion still coming

Four months after the explosion on July 11th, the repercussions are still reverberating through Cyprus's political and social worlds. Defying repeated calls for his resignation, the president continues to try and carry on with business as usual, while his political party AKEL attempts to politicise the tragedy at Mari by undermining the public inquiry's findings. In transparent attempts to spread the communist party's propaganda, AKEL's newspaper Haravgi continually carries stories saying that the opposition is to blame for the atmosphere of shock and disturbance.

And the public watches, waiting for someone to stand up and take responsibility and restore credibility to the system. The crisis grows deeper by the day, and faced with the state's obvious moral cowardice, most people have made up their minds. If elections were to be held today, the current administration would be gone in a heartbeat. 

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