NEWS

Cyprus probes cause of fatal blast

As the relatives of the 12 victims killed in an explosion on Monday at a military munitions depot on Cyprus prepared to bury their dead on Tuesday, explosives experts were examining debris taken from the blast site in Zygi, near the southern resort of Larnaca, to establish the cause of the accident.

The explosion, which killed the Cypriot Navy?s chief of staff, Andreas Ioannides, a military base commander, Lambros Lambrou, as well as army officers and firefighters, also injured more than 60 others, two of whom remained in critical condition Tuesday.

The blast also knocked out the island?s main power station, prompting Cypriot authorities to appeal for support. Greece?s Public Power Corporation was expected to transfer electricity generators to the island while help was also offered by Israeli and Turkish-Cypriot authorities. Monday?s explosion virtually demolished the nearby Vassiliko power station, which supplied the island with more than half of its electricity and is expected to take months to repair.

Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said authorities had launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the blast, adding that Greek and French experts were to help scour the debris for clues.

Stefanou said that Cypriot authorities had tried several times to offload the munitions – confiscated from a Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged and Iranian-hired vessel, the Monchegorsk, in January 2009 – but were stopped by the United Nations.

?Our government?s position in this difficult diplomatic issue was that the material not be held in Cyprus,? said Stefanou. But, he added, Nicosia was obliged to keep the cargo after suggestions of forwarding it to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were rejected, and it received no answer from the Security Council that the material be sent to Germany or Malta.