Cyprus president apologizes for munitions blast deaths

Updated 12 July 2013
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Cyprus president apologizes for munitions blast deaths

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.


UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

Updated 23 April 2018
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UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

  • UAE donates over $50mn to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri
  • The five-year project aims to give hope to Iraqi youths

BAGHDAD: The United Arab Emirates and Iraq on Monday launched a joint effort to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri and its iconic leaning minaret, ravaged last year during battles to retake the city from militants.
During the ceremony at Baghdad’s National Museum, UAE Culture Minister Noura Al-Kaabi said her country would put forward $50.4 million (41.2 million euros) for the task.
“The five-year project is not just about rebuilding the mosque, the minaret and the infrastructure, but also about giving hope to young Iraqis,” she said.
“The millenia-old civilization must be preserved.”
The deal was signed by Kaabi and her Iraqi counterpart, Faryad Rawanduzi, in the presence of UNESCO’s Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen.
“This is an ambitious, highly symbolic project for the resurrection of Mosul and Iraq,” said Haxthausen.
“The work has already begun, the site is now protected... we must first clear the site, remove the rubble (and) document, before we can begin reconstructing the mosque and its minaret.”
The famed 12th century mosque and its leaning minaret — dubbed “the hunchback,” or Al-Habda, by locals — was destroyed in June 2017.
The Iraqi army accused Daesh militants of destroying it with explosives as Iraqi forces steadily retook ground in the embattled city.
It was in this mosque in 2014 that Daesh’s self-proclaimed “caliph,” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, made his only public appearance as leader. His whereabouts are still unknown.
Kaabi, the Emirati minister, called on the international community “to unite to protect universal heritage sites, especially those in our Arab region” in theaters of conflict.
The Al-Nuri mosque is named after Nureddine Al-Zinki, who once ruled over Aleppo and Mosul and ordered the construction of the mosque in 1172.
Al-Habda, which maintained the same structure for nine centuries, was one of the only remnants of the original construction.
Decorated with geometric brick designs, the minaret was long a symbol of the city.
It was printed on 10,000 Iraqi dinar banknotes before it became a symbol of Daesh rule, when the militants planted their black flag at the top of its 45-meter spire.
“This is a historic partnership, the largest and unprecedented cooperation to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq ever,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.
The first year of reconstruction will focus on documenting and clearing the site, UNESCO said.
The following four years will focus on the restoration and “faithful reconstruction” of the mosque, its minaret as well as the city’s historic gardens and open spaces.