- There were two public protests on Wednesday. In the afternoon, led by the mayors of Larnaca and Livadia, hundreds of residents, accompanied by deputies, protested because of the big delays in moving the oil and gas storage units from the seafront east of the town. In the morning, people from nine villages surrounding the Vassilikos area in Limassol district held a protest against government plans to develop the area into an energy hub.
Vassilikos is where the oil storage units not wanted by the Larnacans would eventually be moved to, with the government now setting a 2020 deadline which nobody believes as previous time-frames were ignored. Larnacans held banners saying “We are claiming our right to live without fear,” which was a bit dramatic and misleading considering that the oil storage units have been based in the area for more than 50 years without any accident threatening the town ever occurring.
This slogan would suggest that the communities of Vassilikos will now be condemned to live with fear, something the public-spirited Larnacans have no objection to as long as they supposedly safeguard, “the future of our children and our town.” What Larnacans want is to have another long strip of beach on which to build more hotels, apartments, cafes and restaurants to serve tourists. This is the only development model they are interested in and the reason the municipal council vetoed government plans for the use of the port by oil companies. Larnaca could have become a thriving centre for the oil and gas industry, but chose tourism instead.
The Vassilikos communities, on the other hand, were protesting that the area will be turned into a giant energy hub without their consent. They have a point, and the government is wrong not to engage in any form of dialogue with the residents. This does not mean it should change its plans for the development of the area into an energy hub, but it must establish some form of dialogue with the residents to keep them on side and compensate them in some ways; improving the infrastructure of the area and taking measures to make the residents feel safe.
During Wednesday’s protest, one of the representatives of the protesters said the government had promised to build a fire station, considering all the flammable material stored in the area, but had failed to do so. This was a perfectly reasonable demand that would make residents feel safer and should have been met by the government, which cannot arrogantly ignore the needs of the area’s communities because they do not have much bargaining power in the matter. The Vassilikos communities will be living next to an oil and gas storage unit so the Larnacans can engage in tourism development, the least they deserve is for their concerns to be heard by the government and acted on.