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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 98-08-12

Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Cyprus Mail at <>

Wednesday, August 12, 1998


  • [01] Bases count the cost of fire disaster
  • [02] Government reeling from coup controversy
  • [03] Temperatures finally fall
  • [04] Scuffles thwart deportation of boat people
  • [05] Stranded Kazakh passengers finally go home
  • [06] Offshore concern at lack of progress on Russia treaty
  • [07] Matsakis called in on Australian casino death
  • [08] Heat, hunters and holidays - a lethal combination
  • [09] Tourists flood to Nicosia as resorts seek to ease overcrowding

  • [01] Bases count the cost of fire disaster

    By Andrew Adamides

    AS THE last smouldering pockets of the fire which ravaged Episkopi were dealt with yesterday, the British bases were counting the cost of the disaster which has left 14 families homeless and caused damage estimated at around £2 million.

    Among the 14 homes in Paramali village completely gutted by the fire was Air House, the residence of Major-General Angus Ramsay, Commander of the British forces in Cyprus. Once a colonial villa with a rolling lawn at the back, Air House is now just a blackened shell, the roof and upper floor having caved in.

    Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Major-General Ramsay said the effects of the fire were "devastating", but pointed out that those made homeless "still have their lives, they still have their families".

    Of his own predicament, he added: "I have lost everything I own. The house is a write-off."

    Because of the early evacuation of North and South Paramali, both of which were emptied soon after news of the fire broke, casualties were minimal. Of the 600 soldiers, airmen and firemen who fought the flames, four British soldiers were slightly injured. Three suffered from smoke inhalation, and the fourth was affected by heat stress.

    Those evacuated from their homes were mostly women and children, as all available service personnel were helping fight the fire. In all, 328 married quarters were evacuated, and a total of between 700 and 800 people were moved to nearby Kensington, out of the way of the advancing flames.

    The speed with which residents were forced to flee was evidenced by the piles of belongings still sitting on the pavement outside undamaged houses yesterday. Their owners had planned to load them into cars, but when the fire approached, were forced to abandon them.

    Winds blowing in from the sea at between 23 and 28 knots meant that the fire spread quickly. Thirty-foot flames left an area of three square kilometres a charred wasteland.

    The fire was brought under control late on Monday night, and finally contained yesterday morning.

    In addition to the houses razed by the fire, cabling, water pipes, vehicles and greenery were also destroyed: the blackened remains of a new Rover convertible sit near the entrance to Paramali, while the devastation of the countryside is evident from farther away: the first view of the blackened slopes comes on the Happy Valley road, at least a mile away from Paramali.

    The bases authorities say those families made homeless will have the option of returning to the UK, but in the meantime they will stay either at hotels or with friends. Normal bases operations were not disrupted by the fire, and no military equipment was damaged. Some minor explosions were reported, but it is thought that these were caused by household gas cylinders.

    Of the two helicopters used to fight the blaze, the observation Gazelle was still patrolling yesterday in case of further outbreaks. Bases spokesman Mervyn Wynne-Jones said the assistance provided by the Republic had been excellent, with aid coming in the form of both fire-fighting equipment and food and water.

    Now the clean-up operation has begun, and although the fire may only have burned for 12 hours, the devastation it caused will take a lot longer to repair.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [02] Government reeling from coup controversy

    By Charlie Charalambous

    WITH THE government reeling from accusations of collusion with a noted coup conspirator, President Clerides' Aegean cruise was yesterday interrupted for a definitive response to the Vintzilaios controversy.

    The Presidential Palace called on President Clerides to clear up the matter of who had been responsible for allowing persona non grata Vasilis Vintzilaios to visit Cyprus.

    A statement issued yesterday on behalf of Clerides said the President had instructed Justice Minister Nicos Koshis to issue a special short-stay permit to Vintzilaios so that he could deal with financial matters pending since the death of businessman Yiangos Papadopoulos.

    The official statement also made clear that Papadopoulos had donated a "respectable sum of money" towards the election campaign of presidential candidate George Iacovou, who was backed by Akel.

    Akel dismissed the president's explanation as "petty" and "sad", and said financial reasons could be no excuse for allowing a "criminal" like Vintzilaios to enter the island.

    The party also pointed out that it was Clerides' government, and not Iacovou, who had closer links with the coupist.

    Adding his weight, Edek leader Vassos Lyssarides said that Clerides owed the Cypriot people a "public apology" and said the affair was nothing short of a scandal.

    Government unity seemed to be crumbling rapidly yesterday as the anti-coup offensive, led by Akel, stirred signs of discontent among it owns ministers.

    Defence Minister Yiannakis Omirou - representing seasoned coup-bashers Edek in the coalition government - pulled no punches when he described Vasilis Vintzilaios as "junta scum".

    He also termed the visit as an "extreme provocation to the democratic principles of the Cypriot people."

    With coalition members Edek and the United Democrats openly critical, the Clerides government looks in for a torrid time.

    Akel, Edek, the United Democrats and Diko have called for heads to roll after the government admitted that chief coup conspirator Vintzilaios was allowed free entry into Cyprus, despite being on the stop list.

    Acting president Spyros Kyprianou said yesterday he had the list of 18 known coupists who were on the stop list, and that Vinztilaios' name was right at the top.

    After Kyprianou ordered an investigation on Monday, Koshis revealed that permission had been given to the junta's intelligence chief and Eoka B stalwart to enter the country for a personal visit.

    The Justice Ministry issued an official response, which said that Vintzilaios had been allowed permission to visit for five days from July 23 to tie up some outstanding financial matters.

    This explanation only caused further uproar yesterday when Akel's Demetris Christofias said Koshis had no right to grant permission to Vintzilaios.

    "The Justice Minister does not have the authority to grant such permission as it is the Interior Minister who has jurisdiction," said the Akel boss.

    Christofias suggested that Koshis had been asked to handle the matter because he was a coupist sympathiser and that Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides had been kept in the dark because he was not.

    "Policy seems to be applied by ministers who are friends of the coupists and those who are not coupist sympathisers don't seem to know what is going on."

    Special Branch chief Nicos Iaonnou and Dinos Michaelides have said they had no knowledge of Vintzilaios entering the Republic.

    Their position on the matter has only helped fan the allegations of conspiracy theorists.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [03] Temperatures finally fall

    By Athena Karsera

    AFTER claiming 56 lives in the last days, the heatwave yesterday finally began to subside.

    Meteorologists say temperatures are expected to continue falling in the next few days. Yesterday's high was 39 degrees Celsius, and temperatures are expected to drop to 37 degrees today and tomorrow.

    Health Minister Christos Solomis yesterday assured the public that the chaotic situation at the island's hospitals, caused by the high number of heat-related emergencies, was under control: "The situation has definitely improved", he said. "We are at the end, we hope."

    His comments came as the Health Ministry reported that another eight people had died overnight, raising the death toll to 56 since last Friday.

    Hospitals treated between 3,000 and 3,500 people in heat-related incidents last weekend.

    According to Solomis, all except Limassol Hospital yesterday reported a fall in the number of heat-related emergencies. After a visit to Limassol General Hospital yesterday Solomis ordered the employment of temporary emergency staff. Additional fans and air-conditioning units have also been installed at the hospital.

    And the minister explained that the overcrowding of Larnaca Hospital's morgue was mostly due to the fact that only nine refrigeration chambers had been installed when the hospital was built, and that a backlog had built up as funerals are not held on Fridays and at weekends. The problem had been compounded by the failure of families to take possession of the corpses on time, mostly due to people waiting for relatives to arrive from overseas.

    The high number of fatalities in Larnaca has been attributed to residents not being used to such high temperatures, and therefore not altering their behaviour accordingly. Solomis also said that high figures could be credited to the many refugee housing estates -- occupied mostly by the elderly -- in the area.

    The Health Minister admitted that no exact figure could be given to the heat-related deaths, as most of the victims were elderly and most suffered chronic illness that had been aggravated by the heat.

    He added that the true figure probably fell between 52 and 57. Most victims were not residents of retirement homes, as had first been thought, but people living on their own.

    Solomis said that the lack of younger victims proved that a government campaign launched before and during the heatwave informing people of safety measures had been a success.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [04] Scuffles thwart deportation of boat people

    By Charlie Charalambous

    THE ATTEMPTED deportation of seven Sudanese nationals, rescued from the Rida Allah 'death boat' six weeks ago, caused a mini-riot outside their Limassol hotel yesterday.

    Police said that a large group of fellow boat people - afraid of persecution should they too be deported - surrounded a mini-bus when five of the seven Sudanese were transferred to it yesterday morning.

    Others apparently pelted police with furniture from their hotel windows.

    The immigration department had issued papers for their transfer from the Pefkos hotel to holding cells at Larnaca police station in readiness for their deportation, police said yesterday.

    When a large group of refugees realised what was going on, bottles, pieces of furniture and other objects were thrown at the mini-bus and the police.

    Reinforcements were sent in from Limassol police HQ to help calm down the situation and a decision was taken to postpone the operation until further notice.

    In order to appease the refugees, police promised the UNHCR would be called in to re-examine their plight.

    Two policeman were reported to be slightly injured during the incident.

    The confrontation with police came a day after three Lebanese nationals were repatriated without fuss.

    Ten Syrians, including the five-man crew of the Rida Allah, were sent home soon after the Syrian-flagged trawler was intercepted off the coast of Cyprus on June 29. The government later stated that all remaining passengers would be sent home, even though most of them were seeking asylum.

    One-hundred-and-thirteen people, including eight children and two pregnant women, were rescued off the stricken vessel.

    Limassol police yesterday said that none of the passengers, who have been staying at the Pefkos hotel in Limassol ever since their rescue, were, or ever had been, on hunger strike. "What hunger strike, there never was any such thing," a senior Limassol police officer told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.

    A large number of the boat people began a hunger strike last month to protest their being sent away. Police dismissed the seriousness of the strike, saying the protestors were only skipping the odd meal, but the Aliens Support Movement said last week that a number of the boat people had been on hunger strike for 12 days.

    Almost all the survivors - who come from Sudan, Sierra Leone, Congo, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon - claim they face persecution in their home countries.

    The passengers were desperate with hunger and thirst when a Ukrainian cargo vessel found them crammed aboard the deck of the tiny Rida Allah. They had been drifting for 10 days after the vessel developed engine trouble two days after leaving the Lebanese port of Tripoli on June 18.

    Police said two passengers died of thirst on the fishing boat and had been thrown overboard before the vessel was found and towed to Limassol.

    The Syrian captain of the trawler, 31-year-old Mohammed Mustafa, has been charged with causing death by negligence and carrying paying passengers on an unsuitable vessel. The survivors claim they parted with thousands of dollars each for passage to Greece or Italy on Mustafa's boat.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [05] Stranded Kazakh passengers finally go home

    By Charlie Charalambous

    SOME 87 passengers stranded at Paphos airport on Monday by a legal wrangle over their charter company's unpaid debts finally left for Kazakhstan via Moscow last night.

    However, the Tupolev 154, which brought them to Paphos from Athens remains grounded at the airport until a Nicosia court decides otherwise.

    Lawyers for local company United Perlite Industries Ltd secured an injunction order against charter firm Sayakhat Ltd, claiming it owed them $300.000.

    Nicos Clerides, representing UPI Ltd, yesterday told the Cyprus Mail that negotiations to resolve the matter amicably had failed after intensive negotiations.

    He said a bank guarantee for the outstanding money had been offered, but that the bank in question was not acceptable.

    "We cannot accept a guarantee from a Kazakhstan bank that might not exist. There can be no progress unless the guarantee comes from a reputable bank."

    Clerides now believes that only court action will settle the parties' differences.

    "To lift the order against the injunction, they must prove good cause why the judgment should not continue, or offer security for the debt."

    A Nicosia district court will hear the case tomorrow morning.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [06] Offshore concern at lack of progress on Russia treaty

    By Hamza Hendawi

    TWO RECENT rounds of negotiations between old friends Cyprus and Russia have surprisingly failed to achieve their declared objective - renewal of a double taxation treaty seen as crucial to the island's lucrative offshore sector.

    The delay might turn out to be long, and whether a third round of talks scheduled for next month will iron out differences remains to be seen.

    Speaking to reporters yesterday, Finance Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou warned that a stalemate in the negotiations would have a far greater negative impact on the Russian economy than on that of Cyprus.

    An annual total of $20 to $25 billion are invested in Russia through Cyprus, and Russian firms make available through Cyprus goods worth $500 to $600 million a year, the minister said after meeting Russian Chargé d'affaires in Nicosia Sergei Rokov.

    "An agreement will only be reached when there is a new (Russian) approach which serves the interests of both sides."

    Lack of progress on the taxation treaty has given Russian offshore companies and others doing business with the former communist country from bases in Cyprus something to worry about, but it has also led some to ponder the long-term future of the island's offshore sector on its current basis.

    The apparent deadlock has also lent weight to recent predictions that the more than 30 double taxation treaties signed between Cyprus and foreign countries, the backbone of the offshore industry, might fall away with time as authorities the world over improve tax collection and as groupings such as the European Union, which Cyprus aspires to join by 2003, begin actively to seek tax harmonisation.

    If such forecasts hold true, and there are signs that they might, the island's offshore sector could lose one of its main attractions: low taxation.

    The importance of the sector to the Cyprus economy can hardly be exaggerated. It is one of the fastest growing areas of the economy, accounts for four per cent of GDP, 11 per cent of invisible receipts and employs thousands of people, and is also essential to the growth of the services industry.

    There are more than 30,000 offshore companies registered on the island, of which more than 1,000 maintain fully-fledged offices.

    "It is not just useful, it is not just a good addition to our economy, it is a part of our life that you cannot take away," was how former president and millionaire-businessman George Vassiliou recently summed up his views on the offshore sector.

    But the difficulties into which negotiations with the Russians have run reminded everyone concerned that the money-spinning sector cannot be taken for granted.

    "Everyone is worried," said Valere Gigarev of the Limassol-based Russian Businessmen Association, referring to the negotiations over the treaty. "We are interested to see the new treaty unchanged from the old one," he told the Cyprus Mail.

    Gigarev's wish to see an unchanged treaty, however, is not likely to be granted, according to tax experts at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the giant accounting firm with extensive dealings with Russian businesses on the island.

    Speaking to the Mail, partners Phidias Pilides and Panikos Kaouris said Russia has recently pledged to the International Monetary Fund to improve its tax collection and that that might have been at the root of its insistence on taxing interest profits, the main point of contention in the negotiations.

    "The new treaty will not be exactly the same as the old one," said Pilides, who warned that "the Russians stand to lose by discouraging companies from investing in their country."

    Kaouris said one demand put forward by Cypriot negotiators was that Moscow agree to a taxation treaty similar to those recently signed between Russia and other countries, a point on which Christodoulou said yesterday: "We do not seek special treatment. We only seek equal treatment."

    "They (Cypriot negotiators) told the Russians that if they wanted to change their approach to taxation treaties, they should not start with us," said Kaouris.

    The two PricewaterhouseCoopers tax experts, however, sought to play down the significance of low taxation to the island's offshore sector, saying many of the companies which set up shop here did not do so solely for tax purposes, although the low taxation offered (4.25 per cent) was important.

    "If a disadvantageous taxation treaty with the Russians was to be signed, it would not be the end of the world," predicted Pilides. "The industry will weather the damage."

    Definitely not the end of the world, but the industry would be dealt a body blow, given the huge volume of Russian-related business on the island.

    "If the Russians are not satisfied with the new taxation treaty, they will go somewhere else where they can find a better refuge," Popular Bank's chief economist Ioannis Tirkides told the Mail.

    Tirkides' counterpart at Hellenic Bank, Marios Clerides, agrees. "We have created a superficial atmosphere in which the survival of many offshore companies depends on low taxation.

    "The problem is that if you take that away, companies will go elsewhere."

    Views such as those held by Tirkides and Clerides are hotly contested by the Central Bank, the chief regulatory body of the offshore sector.

    "We are not a tax haven, what we have is a tax-planning jurisdiction," said George M. Georgiou, of the Central Bank's Offshore Enterprises Section. "You'll be surprised to know how many people came here for reasons other than low taxation," he told the Mail.

    Georgiou also dismissed as too premature suggestions that the island's offshore sector would end once the EU moves to harmonise its internal taxation, thus cancelling preferential treatments such as those accorded to offshore companies in Cyprus and EU member states Portugal, Italy and Ireland.

    "It will take a very long time to accomplish this, it is even a more contentious issue than the single currency, over which the EU fought something of a civil war," he said.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [07] Matsakis called in on Australian casino death

    By Martin Hellicar

    DR MARIOS Matsakis has found that an Australian Greek who died after a brawl at a Sydney casino was asphyxiated and did not die of a heart attack.

    The former state pathologist and Diko deputy was hired, along with Greek professor Dimitros Moutzinis, by the family of Peter Dalamangas to carry out an independent second post-mortem on the dead man's exhumed body in Sydney.

    The Dalamangas family are disputing the findings of the original post- mortem, which attributed the death to heart failure. They claim Peter was killed in a fight with security guards at the Star City casino, and are suing the casino for over 250 million Australian dollars - the largest personal injury claim ever made in Australia.

    Matsakis and Moutzinis released their interim post-mortem reports yesterday. Matsakis found that Pater Dalamangas died from asphyxia and neck compression, Australian television station channel nine reported.

    Dalamangas had a heart condition but this did not significantly contribute to his death, Matsakis said.

    But New South Wales coroner Derrick Hand has denied the original post- mortem had attributed Dalamangas' death to a heart attack.

    Hand, who ordered the exhumation of Dalamangas' body last week after the family's complaint, said the original post-mortem showed chest and neck compression in association with coronary artery disease. Hand stated that a subsequent report found restraint asphyxiation - the same cause of death found by Matsakis.

    Matsakis and Moutzinis were present when Dalamangas's body was dug up from its grave at Sydney's Rookwood cemetery last Thursday. The deceased's family said they hired Matsakis and Moutzinis after their solicitor failed to find a local independent observer.

    Official results of a second post-mortem examination on the body by West Australian pathologist Dr Clive Cook are expected to be handed to the coroner within three weeks.

    Hand has promised an inquiry into the death.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [08] Heat, hunters and holidays - a lethal combination

    By Athena Karsera

    THE GOVERNMENT is considering suggestions to postpone the August hunting season until the current heatwave subsides.

    Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides and Agriculture Minister Costas Themistocleous agree that the combination of heat, hunters and droves of summer holidaymakers could prove disastrous.

    Savvas Theophanous, Director of the Forestry Department, yesterday confirmed that the two Ministries had been discussing the matter, but that, as yet, no decision had been taken.

    Aristos Ioannou, Senior Conservation Officer at the Forestry Department, told the Cyprus Mail that the Department had requested a postponement of the hunting season, as there is, "real danger". Ioannou referred to several fires on Sunday, and in particular, one at the Kokomalli Forest, which is believed to have been caused by hunters' negligence.

    The Federation of Environmentalists and Ecological Organisations has repeated demands for an end to hunting during the summer months, especially since their are so many visitors to the forests during this period.

    But the chairman of the Hunters' Federation, Andreas Pantelas, says it is impossible simply to blame hunters for damage done to the countryside at a time when so many people visit the forests.

    Phileleftheros yesterday reported that hunters had been disappointed by the season's first hunt, on Sunday, with many leaving early because of the heat.

    If no changes are made, the next hunt is scheduled for Sunday 23 August, by which time the weather is expected to have cooled slightly.

    Wednesday, August 12, 1998

    [09] Tourists flood to Nicosia as resorts seek to ease overcrowding

    COASTAL resorts are so crowded that tourists are being encouraged to stay in Nicosia for a couple of days during their holiday to alleviate the overcrowding.

    The result of this is that Nicosia is seeing an unusual rise in tourism with tour operators suggesting that tourists take a holiday within their holiday, and stay in the capital for a few nights. The operators promote Nicosia by stressing its political importance to Cyprus and its places of historical interest and worth.

    The coastal areas sending the most tourists to the capital are Ayia Napa and Protaras.

    According to the Union of Tourist Agencies, such increases in tourism for the capital have occurred before but only for short periods of time. The head of the Union, Michalis Zigas, said the influx of tourists to Nicosia for one or two nights made it easier for coastal hotels to accept even more tourists.

    Cyprus is currently enjoying a bumper tourist season, with hotels working at full capacity and neither political tensions nor the heatwave seeming to frighten tourists off.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1998

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