Friday, July 15, 2011

Heat and Unrest

With several consecutive nights of demonstrations outside the Presidential Palace behind them, police in Nicosia have spent today supervising the clearing of ornamental rocks from the big roundabout in front of the Palace gates. People here are angry. They are calling for the President's resignation as it becomes more and more evident that not only the National Guard was aware of and counselling the removal of the 2000 tonnes of explosives that took out the Navy base and the power station on Monday, but also the Ministers of Justice, Commerce, Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Finance – as well as two high ranking people from the President's office -- all of whom had surely submitted minutes of meetings and reports as to the seriousness of the situation.

But Mr Christofias has yet to offer an apology, or an explanation for the government's continued inaction. And he is sure to duck any responsibility (such is the nature of corruption and cronyism in a society as small and interrelated as ours)  – though he has promised 'A thorough investigation and full accountability.' He had a 'conversation' with the Attorney General the other day.. A chat, I imagine, in which the two discussed how the president might best be exculpated. Nothing like the criminal investigation that should be taking place.

Meanwhile more details are emerging as to the actual events. The base commander, realising the dangers posed by the poorly stored ammunition following some minor explosions of the detonators within the containers last week, organised an exercise that got all personell off-post. The officers, NCOs and conscripts were sleeping under canvas some distance away – and probably cursing their CO for the heat and inconvenience. When the fire broke out in the early hours of Monday morning, the commander orderd that the sentries leave their posts, and dismissing his own driver ('Where shall we go sir? How can we leave the base unguarded?' they asked. But 'Go to the others, go somewhere, just get the hell out of here!' he answered) went with his commander, a senior NCO, and the 19-year-old twin conscripts who were manning the base firefighting apparatus, to assist the fire crews in putting out the brush fire. The driver, on his way out of the gate after collecting something from his office was caught in the blast but survived. Of the base, nothing is left but a huge crater.

The commander had also had the presence of mind to send part of the fire crew to warn the power station, and to block the road to the arriving shift. A friend of Best Beloved's got to work there shortly after seven to find a scene reminiscent of a war zone.

'But if they knew that it was going to blow, why didn't the commanders leave too?' Alex asked last night. 'They could have saved themselves...'

'Because it was their job,' we answered. 'There was still the possibilty of putting out the fire, of saving the base and the power station – and as long as that possibilty existed, they had to go. Even knowing that they were probably not going to make it, trying was their duty. And knowing that the young brothers with them were probably going to die too, they still had to try. That's what it means to lead, to take responsibility – whatever the consequences.'

The last few days have been full of funerals.  S has been to three, including those of the twins:  'These are my friends, guys my age, guys who got drunk and joked, guys I had push-up competitions with... Another friend is lying in hospital with no eyes and half his brain gone.  We all feel bad: our officers are telling us that these guys were heroes -- maybe so, but they're still dead.' The funerals have been marked by anger, but also by dignity. And underlying the sadness and bitterness is a fear for the future: Cypriots were feeling fairly comfortable, despite the recession. Now, with 60% of our electrical generating power knocked out, with rolling power and water cuts affecting pretty much everyone, the economy is set to take a heavy blow.  Small businesses are losing money, people can't use the banks, the supermarkets are dark, hot, running on a skeleton staff.  Traffic lights stop working as the power once again shuts down... It will be a long road back.

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