By Elias Hazou
EVEN as the new police chief took the oath of office yesterday, his hastily dispatched predecessor insisted that he was being scapegoated for the disturbances in Limassol earlier in the week.
At a swearing-in ceremony held at the Palace, new chief Zacharias Chrysostomou vowed “zero tolerance to corruption and abuse of power” as President Nicos Anastasiades said he had high expectations of him.
Anastasiades said what had happened in Limassol had exhausted his patience with the former chief. “”The enforcement of law and order and the protection of democracy are all matters for which I personally, and the government, will not show any tolerance,” he said.
He told the new chief: “By signing this instrument of appointment today, we have signed a contract with the people.
You must be a leader in pursuit of your duties to safeguard democracy, to be tireless in fighting corruption, to be relentless in the fight against organised crime, to be effective, and certainly as far as the force is concerned to eliminate the cycle of political influence and to be just and fair in your decisions,” Anastasiades added.
Chrysostomou replaces Michalis Papageorgiou who was summarily given the boot on Thursday following violent protests by far-right outfit ELAM at a Cyprus peace talk in Limassol on Wednesday night, attended by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
The President blamed Papageorgiou for the inadequate police force deployed to the venue, which allowed ELAM members to storm the premises. They managed to enter the lobby and hurled a flare inside the hall. A Turkish Cypriot journalist who tried to take photos was slightly injured when scuffles broke out with police.
Papageorgiou, who admitted to having been asleep when the tip came on Wednesday morning that ELAM would be protesting at the event, later sought to defend himself saying that his direct involvement was not necessary as subordinates could, and should, have handled the situation.
Yesterday Papageorgiou, appointed under the previous administration, reiterated that he was ousted because he was an honest cop focused only on doing his job rather than catering to political favours.
He accused his (now) former political boss, justice minister Ionas Nicolaou, of personally meddling in promotions and transfers in the police force, and said he had informed the President in writing of this interference.
Papageorgiou did not rule out seeking redress in courts here or in Europe.
Hitting back on the airwaves, Nicolaou rejected Papageorgiou’s allegations as “idle gossip,” and suggested it was a case of sour grapes on the part of the former police chief.
As the two men jousted over what each knew of ELAM’s plans ahead of Wednesday night, it became apparent that the police, the justice ministry as well as the event’s organisers had been aware that something was brewing.
Opposition AKEL called for the resignation of Nicolaou, the minister responsible for the police. Otherwise, said party spokesman Giorgos Loucaides, the impression was being given that Papageorgiou was being set up as the fall guy for what was a failure of the entire system.
Wednesday’s incident, occurring as it did during ongoing peace talks, was a major embarrassment for the government, prompting the President to apologise to Talat.
The episode caused consternation on the Turkish Cypriot side with all of the media in the north splashing the story on their front pages on Thursday. Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu issued a written statement condemning ELAM’s behaviour and noting that “the animosity, which some parts of the Greek Cypriot community still feel towards the Turkish Cypriots and reaches the point of violence, is regrettable and unacceptable”.
Widely viewed as a moderate, Talat himself sought to play down the incident, which he nonetheless called “shameful.” In an interview with Turkish Cypriot daily Yeni Duzen, published yesterday, Talat said that if the Greek Cypriots did not want a solution, they would not have invited him to Limassol.
Referring to the ELAM group, Talat said: “These are not the Greek Cypriot majority. If the state takes measures, it is possible for them to be isolated and I think that this is a must for creating a culture of peace in Cyprus.”
Talat noted that a great deal interest was exhibited for his lecture in Limassol and pointed out that the pro-peace people there outnumbered those who oppose peace.
Meanwhile three purported members of ELAM were yesterday released from police custody after the court denied a request for them be remanded over Wednesday’s violence.
The police wanted the court to remand in custody the three suspects – aged 25, 30 and 39 – for six days. The three had been arrested on Thursday – a full day after the incident – on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, disturbing the peace and assaulting a police officer.
In court, police argued that the continued detention of the three was vital to ongoing investigations into Wednesday’s events. Police claimed that dozens more arrests were on the way.
But the Limassol district court was unconvinced, finding the police’s arguments to be “unclear and vague.” It ordered the immediate release of the three suspects.
The ruling was welcomed with applause in the courtroom by members of ELAM and friends and relatives of the suspects.
During the remand hearing, the suspects’ lawyer sought to impart political undertones to the case, arguing that there was no hard evidence against the suspects, who were being singled out by authorities because they were members of a particular organisation.