July 19, 2011 / 12:46 PM / 8 years ago

Cyprus president asks minister to stay on as coalition falters

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus’s president said on Tuesday he would ask his foreign minister to stay on as he struggled to keep his coalition together following a deadly munitions blast last week that threatens to plunge the island into recession.

Keen to avoid more defections in an increasingly fragile ruling coalition, Demetris Christofias said he wanted Markos Kyprianou to remain in office. Kyprianou on Monday said he planned to resign in the face of growing public anger at the blast in a cargo of confiscated Iranian munitions on July 11.

“I will speak to Mr Kyprianou and ask him to remain at his post, but it is up to him to decide,” Christofias told reporters. He was due to meet Kyprianou at 1400 GMT.

Kyprianou is an influential member of the Democratic Party, the junior partner in Christofias’s centre-left coalition. His departure could herald the exit of the party altogether from the government forged with Christofias’s Communist AKEL party.

Disagreements were simmering between the two parties even before the blast, which killed 13 people and destroyed a power plant generating more than half of Cyprus’s electricity needs.

Thousands of Cypriots have taken to the streets calling for Christofias’s resignation and declaring him a criminal after the explosion which has triggered power cuts and severely disrupted business.

Christofias, whose failure to immediately offer any kind of apology angered Cypriots, said that while the public had a right to demonstrate and seek resignations, some demands were incompatible with Cypriot political culture.

“I have the patience to stoically listen, but it does not mean that I accept it,” he said.

Cypriot media reported on Tuesday the blast was likely to cut growth this year to zero, from a previous forecast of 1.5 percent, and lead to recession in 2012. The Mediterranean island, one of the euro zone’s smallest members, emerged from recession in the first quarter of 2010.

The island’s defence minister and army chief resigned hours after the explosion in a military base which had stored the munitions since Cyprus intercepted them and confiscated them from a ship sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009 in violation of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Kyprianou’s ministry was involved in the confiscation and handling the political fallout with Iran and Syria.

The cargo was stored a few hundred metres away from Cyprus’s largest power station and contained gunpowder and metal casings, all stored in scorching temperatures for more than two years, despite appeals from army officers for their removal.

Separately, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was due to begin a two-day visit to northern Cyprus on Tuesday. The island has been split since a Turkish invasion in 1974 following a Greek-inspired coup.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Louise Ireland

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