Tear gas fired in Nicosia amid protest at fatal blast

Police used teargas on Tuesday night to disperse angry crowds protesting outside Cyprus?s presidential palace over the death of 12 people in a massive munitions dump blast.

Police in riot gear fired several rounds of teargas outside the palace in central Nicosia after crowds burst though an outer gate of the compound.

Chanting slogans demanding the resignation of the president, some demonstrators, including right-wing nationalists, threw stones at police guarding one compound exit.

Protesters chanting, «The people demand that the murderers are thrown in jail» were stopped at an inner gate about 100 metres from the palace by riot police.

Police responded with teargas and stun grenades.

Some reports put the number of protesters at about 2,000.

Youths later set fire to rubbish bins outside the palace grounds. Police made several arrests but no injuries were reported.

It was unclear whether President Dimitris Christofias was in the building.

The protest followed a peaceful march by some 10,000 people shouting slogans and carrying placards reading «Negligence is criminal».

The rally was organised online and spread through social media and mobile phone text messages.

“We’re here to protest the irresponsibility of our government,» said protester Nectaria Mihail, 30. «All (officials) care about is their cushy positions and money. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Dozens of containers of munitions Cyprus confiscated from a ship sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009 exploded at a military base on Monday, killing 12 people and destroying Cyprus?s largest power station, which is close to the military base where the munitions were stored.

Authorities have ordered a criminal inquiry into the blast. The containers had been stacked one on top of the other in an open field at the navy base since 2009, when they were seized from the Cypriot-flagged M/V Monchegorsk that the United Nations said was breaching a ban on arms exports.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said Greek experts had already joined Cyprus police and military investigators in scouring the rubble for clues while French officials were en route. Authorities have ruled out sabotage.

The probe comes amid a torrent of criticism over how the 100 containers – most of them filled with gunpowder – had been stored.

Military officials had previously expressed fears of what exposure to the elements would have on the containers and the gunpowder in letters to the Defence Ministry. Cyprus Auditor General Chrystalla Georghadji was quoted in an annual report in 2009 as saying that the contents’ «composition and reaction to high temperatures is unknown».

“There will be an in-depth investigation, all will be investigated thoroughly and responsibility will be apportioned where it is due,» Stefanou told reporters,

Stefanou said the government had sought to transport the containers to either Malta or Germany, but received no reply from the UN Security Council whose authorisation he said was needed to do so.

Fotis Fotiou, a spokesman for the governing coalition, centre-right party DIKO said «it is obvious that criminal negligence» caused the «national tragedy.”

“There must be punishment,» he said.