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Greek Cyprus cabinet quits in wake of blast

NICOSIA - Agence France-Presse | 7/28/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Greek Cyprus’ cabinet resigned in preparation for a reshuffle aimed at holding together a fragile governing coalition in the face of growing public anger over a munitions blast that has escalated the economic crisis.

The entire cabinet of Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, under fire after a munitions blast killed 13 people and wrecked the island’s main power plant, resigned on Thursday, as Christofias himself said he had no intention of stepping down.

 The 11 ministers were asked by Christofias to submit their resignations so a reshuffle could take place, government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told reporters. “The president ... briefed ministers of his intention to make a general reshuffle of the cabinet and for this reason requested that ministers put their resignations at his disposal,” he said. The ministers will stay on until a new government is appointed.

 Asked by a reporter if he had thought about it, he said: “No, not in any case. The people elected me and I am accountable to the people.” Stefanou said there will be a reshuffle “soon” following consultations with the government’s coalition partners and other parties.

“It is a move for the president to seek to appoint a government of wider acceptance to achieve consensus on economic measures and to restore public trust,” he said. The move comes after junior coalition partner Diko told its ministers on Wednesday to quit the government. And it follows an announcement by ratings agency Moody’s that it had downgraded Greek Cypriot government bond ratings in part over the economic fallout from the blast and the “increasingly fractious domestic political climate.”

Christofias and his team are widely accused of failing to prevent the explosion, which also injured more than 60 people, caused millions of euros in damage to homes and businesses in the vicinity and threatened economic recovery on the island. Diko said its ministers were asked to tender their resignation to Christofias to “assist and expedite decision making and taking initiatives which everybody expects”.

 It said decisions needed to be taken to “restore the trust of citizens in the state and its institutions and rescue the economy.” A reshuffle is supported by communist Akel, the president’s own party. Diko had two ministers -- health and commerce -- in the cabinet following the resignation of Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou last week.

 Leaked documents in the media indicate that officials knew that the 98 shipping containers of munitions -- piled up in the blazing sun at the base near Limassol -- could explode. The government has said Christofias was never made aware of the risk. Among those killed was the head of the Greek Cypriot navy, Captain Andreas Ioannides, who was reported to have repeatedly denounced the situation. The blast also claimed six firemen and six other military personnel.

 The key Vassiliko facility provided more than half of the country’s electricity. Since the blast, thousands have gathered nightly outside the presidential palace to call on Christofias to resign following the island’s worst peacetime military disaster. The containers had been at the base since their seizure in February 2009 when Greek Cyprus intercepted, under pressure from the U.S. and other Western nations, a Cypriot-flagged freighter bound from Iran for Syria.

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