By Constantinos Psillides
THE MUNICIPALITY of Mesa Yitonia in Limassol has requested help to deal with Easter bonfires after Mayor Doros Antoniou said the situation there was out of control.
In a letter addressed to Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, Antoniou claims that gangs of youngsters are threatening members of the public, destroying properties, cutting down trees and demanding to be allowed to build bonfires. The mayor said the reaction came after the municipality’s decision to forbid all Easter bonfires (lambradjies).
“Groups of young people threatened me, threatened municipality employees and are demanding to be allowed to light bonfires.” the letter said, asking the minister to step in and put an end to the threats.
“We were working along with the police and tried to handle the situation but it wasn’t possible to control it. I ask you to take drastic measures to put an end to this out-of-control and highly dangerous situation,” the mayor said.
Antoniou added that on Monday somebody had cut down a 25-metre tall Cypress tree inside the playground of an elementary school. The tree has been there for 30 years, according to Antoniou.
He also said youngsters had set tyres on fire in an underground passage near the Apostolos Andreas church, making it difficult for churchgoers heading for Easter services.
“Another citizen reported that somebody stole an antique piece of wooden furniture from his front porch. He found what was left of the furniture near Easter bonfire pile. Somebody dismantled it to add the wood to the pile. Another citizen reported to the police that youngsters near his house stole the plastic chairs from his porch and put them around a bonfire pile,” said Antoniou.
Limassol police already set up a “lambradjia patrol”, a task force that consists of 10 police officers whose job during the Easter holidays is to monitor the bonfires and tear them down, if need be.
The Easter bonfires, or lambradjies as they are locally known, are a major headache for the police. The bonfires are lit typically around churches or empty fields following the Holy Saturday midnight mass, to burn effigies of Judas.
The custom has gone completely out of control in recent years, with neighbourhoods and even villages competing with each other for the largest bonfire. Rivals have been known to sabotage each other by lighting their bonfires before the Holy Saturday service to ruin them on the day.
It has also become customary to throw firecrackers in the bonfires, as well as gas bottles or in some extreme cases pipe bombs for extra bang, making them extremely dangerous for bystanders. Many bonfires are lit near churches.
Police said earlier in the week they were clamping down by establishing a special task force to curb the phenomenon. Each district is expected to make their own arrangements.