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Defendant in Mari Explosion Trial Released in Greece

tsalikidesFormer chief of the national guard Petros Tsalikides has been released by authorities in Thessaloniki and will not be extradited to Cyprus where he is wanted to stand trial for manslaughter in the 2011 munitions explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari village.

Greek prosecutor Harris Vourliotis made the decision, rejecting Cyprus law enforcement's European arrest warrant. The case in Cyprus was postponed twice due to Tsalikides' refusal to turn up in Larnaca district court. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Greek army said that a Greek national will not be tried in the Cyprus Republic, but only in Greece.

Lawyer Christos Triantafyllidis, who represents the relatives of the firefighter Panagiotis Theophilou - one of the 13 men who died in the blast - said that the case may go forward without Tsalikides, similar to the Andy Hadjicostis murder case in which one of the main suspects fled to another country.

Indictments have been issued against former foreign minister Markos Kyprianou, former defence minister Kostas Papakostas, former army chief Petros Tsalikides, assistant army chief Savvas Argyros, and officer George Georgiades, along with the chief and deputy chief of the fire service Andreas Nikolaou and Charalambos Charalambous and the commander of EMAK, Andreas Loizides.

The blast was caused after munitions that were confiscated by the state from Iran en route to Syria in January 2009 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.

The independent inquiry into the explosion blamed President Demetris Christofias for delays in destroying the munitions, but he was not indicted because he has immunity to prosecution while he is in the presidency. Separate proceedings in front of the Supreme Court to remove his immunity are underway.

The victims' families are trying to sue Christofias for negligent manslaughter, and hold him responsible for the deaths of their husbands and fathers.

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