June 21, 2019 / 4:17 PM / a month ago

Former Cyprus president Christofias dies at 72

FILE PHOTO: Cyprus' President Demetris Christofias addresses a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) - Former Cypriot president Demetris Christofias, the island’s first Communist head of state, died on Friday, authorities said. He was 72.

The veteran leader had spent about a month in hospital with respiratory problems. Earlier Friday doctors said his condition was deteriorating and non-reversible.

Christofias was president of Cyprus from 2008 to 2013, and prior to that headed AKEL, the moderate Communist party which is one of Cyprus’s largest.

He did not seek re-election in 2013 after his presidency was jolted by a financial crisis for which Cyprus required an international bailout.

It was on Christofias’s watch that munitions confiscated from an Iranian tanker destined for Syria exploded while being stored on Cyprus, triggering the island’s worst peace-time disaster and killing 13 people.

Also during his presidency, Cyprus began prospecting for hydrocarbon reserves off its coast, making its first natural gas discovery in 2011.

Christofias was a strong supporter of efforts to reunite the ethnically partitioned island, split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek inspired coup.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones

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