NICOSIA: Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades yesterday publicly apologized for the deaths of 13 firemen and soldiers in a munitions blast exactly two years since the island’s worst peacetime disaster.
“Those who died during conditions of peace, were victims of irresponsibility and indifference of a state which today humbly bows in their memory,” Anastasiades said at a memorial service held at the Mari naval base on the south coast where the explosion occurred on July 11, 2011.
“The state overwhelmingly extends a public apology and greatly regrets everything that it should have done on time but unfortunately failed to protect its children,” he added.
He said the state took sole responsibility for everything that happened leading up to the explosion of confiscated Iranian munitions which also took out the island’s largest power plant.
On Tuesday ex-defense minister Costas Papacostas was found guilty of manslaughter while three fire chiefs were convicted of causing death through negligence linked to the blast.
The four accused are scheduled to be sentenced on July 24, although Papacostas is being treated in intensive care at Nicosia General Hospital under police guard.
Ex-foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and army deputy commander Savvas Argyrou were found not guilty on all charges by the criminal court in the same trial.
Relatives of those killed — seven soldiers and six firemen — and injured in the blast at Mari expressed anger at the verdicts, which they described as an “injustice.” They had demanded that all the defendants “and many more” should go to prison for life.
Many believe that the person who should be on trial is Demetris Christofias who was president at the time of the blast.
A public inquiry found former president Christofias responsible for the explosion, but there was never any possibility of legal proceedings against him as the constitution gives him immunity from prosecution.
Anastasiades said yesterday he will propose legislation that will make the president and his ministers more accountability by restricting their immunity.
During the lengthy trial, the prosecution painted a picture of ineptitude and oversights that led to the disaster.
There was a public outcry after munitions stored at the naval base for almost three years, under searing heat in summer, exploded despite repeated warnings that they were unsafe.
Some 98 containers were piled up unprotected at the base, just 150 meters (yards) from the island’s biggest power station at Vassiliko.
They were seized in February 2009 when Cyprus intercepted a Cypriot-flagged freighter bound from Iran for Syria and a UN sanctions committee said the cargo contravened a ban on Iranian arms shipments.
The public inquiry said the munitions were kept in Cyprus to placate Syria and Iran in a risky diplomatic game.