12 Dead as Massive Explosion Rocks Cyprus Naval Base

Posted July 11th, 2011 at 9:55 am (UTC-5)
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At least 12 people are dead and more than half of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus is without power, after a huge explosion at a local military base. Shortly after the blast, the government's defense minister and its army chief both resigned.

Authorities linked the explosion to munitions seized from an Iranian vessel heading to Syria in 2009, and said encroaching brush fires triggered the huge early-morning blast. A government spokesman said authorities have ruled out sabotage.

Hours after the blast, television footage showed bodies covered in white sheets dotting a charred hillside at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base on the island-nation's southern coast. Ambulances ferried about 60 injured people to hospitals in Larnaca and the capital, Nicosia.

President Dimitris Christofias has asked Defense Minister Costas Papacostas and National Guard Chief Petros Tsalikides to remain at their posts until replacements are named.

The munitions responsible for Monday's explosion were seized by the U.S. Navy in January, 2009 from a cargo ship headed from Iran to Syria.

The shipment violated a United Nations' mandate prohibiting Iran from exporting weaponry.