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Originally published Monday, July 11, 2011 at 6:08 PM

Cyprus defense, military leaders quit after blast kills 12

The leader of the Cyprus navy died in a large blast that leveled a munitions-storage facility and prompted two of the country's highest military leaders to resign from their posts, the defense ministry said. At least 11 others — including the commander of the naval base — also died, and dozens more were wounded.

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ATHENS, Greece — The leader of the Cyprus navy died in a large blast that leveled a munitions-storage facility and prompted two of the country's highest military leaders to resign from their posts, the defense ministry said. At least 11 others — including the commander of the naval base — also died, and dozens more were wounded.

The explosion occurred in a base where the Cyprus authorities were keeping confiscated arms from an Iranian ship intercepted in 2009 off the island's coast, according to a statement issued by a government spokesman, Stefanos Stefanou. Cyprus said the vessel had been on its way to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions.

It was unclear where the navy chief, Andreas Ioannides, was at the time of the explosion or how close he was to the munitions facility. The blast occurred in the early hours of Monday morning and left a scene of destruction around the base, located on the Mediterranean island's southern coast, including heavy damage to a nearby power station, television images showed.

Shortly after the blast, Defense Minister Costas Papacostas and Brig. Gen. Petros Tsalikides, the country's top military official, resigned their posts.

In the statement, Stefanou said the Defense Ministry had been concerned about the conditions in which the munitions were stored, and held meetings about them last week.

"Decisions were taken on protecting the material, but unfortunately there was not enough time for these decisions to be implemented," he said, adding that there would be a "thorough investigation."

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