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Anger Grows in Cyprus Over Munitions Blast

Protesters in Nicosia, Cyprus, 12 Jul 2011
Protesters in Nicosia, Cyprus, 12 Jul 2011

Thousands of demonstrators continued their march through the country's capital as anger spreads over the government’s apparent involvement in an explosion at a naval base on Monday that left 12 people dead. At least 20 people have been arrested in connection with the protests.

The crowd in central Nicosia swelled into thousands, with people streaming to the main Freedom Square to express solidarity with the families of those killed.

Many people waved placards reading: “Criminals”, “State: Killer of your children” and “President Christofias Resign.”

Dozens of containers of gunpowder seized years ago from an Iranian cargo ship exploded on Cyprus' main naval base on Monday in a massive blast that killed 12 people, wounded 62.

Police said Wednesday that they arrested 20 people during the protest. They said protesters hurled rocks, flares and fire bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Five police officers were slightly injured.

Student Emma Charalambous says that it was there that security forces dispersed many of the protesters by using tear gas late Tuesday.

"Well at first it was quite peaceful and everyone was just doing a march for mourning and they had candles and everything lit, but then rocks started flying and tear gas from all directions coming everywhere," she said. "Literally you could not see. Grandchildren, grandparents - there were all ages there."

Meanwhile, funeral services for eight of the twelve dead that included the island's navy chief were held Wednesday, with crowds applauding the victims as their caskets were carried into churches.

Petitions on the internet for the president to resign have also gathered pace, with thousands of people signing a Face book campaign.

Monday's blast also wrecked a key power plant and forced the resignations of the defense minister and the military chief.

The spokesman for the Cyprus Electricity Authority says that the island was already having extensive power cuts, which are causing blackouts in most districts.

"We must cut supplies in some areas, in turn, for two to three hours every day," said the spokesman. "I must clarify that airports, hospitals, tourist areas and industrial estates will not be affected from the power cuts in an effort not to cause problems for our economy - only residential areas will be affected."

The military base stored munitions from the Monchegorsk, which Cyprus intercepted sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009, confiscating its cargo for being in violation of UN sanctions on Iran.