Amid escalating protests over the planned relocation of an asphalt plant to Mitsero, two community leaders were on Tuesday arrested for obstruction, while residents blocked off the Kato Moni to Ayios Ioannis Mallountas road for a few hours and vowed to remain on site until they are vindicated.

The 12 communities in the area — Mitsero, Kato Moni, Agrokipia, Agios Ioannis, Arediou, Malounta, Meniko, Orounta, Ayia Marina, Ayios Epiphanios, Kalo Chorio and Klirou are determined to prevent the relocation of the asphalt factory which they say will harm the environment and public health.

“We will be here every day to guard the site until the building permit is cancelled,” Charalambos Matsoukas, Kato Moni community leader said, adding that a letter had been sent to the president and they were awaiting his response. A meeting is tentatively scheduled for later this month.

And Sotiris Kyriakou, community leader of Agrokipia, told the Cyprus News Agency that they will not be leaving until President Nicos Anastasiades orders a stop to any activity there.

“We will stay at night too. We will camp out and remain here and the main road will also close depending on how many people we have here,” he said.

Earlier, he and the community leader of Mitsero were arrested for obstructing the progress of an excavator sent to delineate the site, and for verbally insulting police. They were taken to Lakatamia police station where they were charged and released.

“Residents of the area have no intention of leaving until a written guarantee [is obtained] that works will not restart prior to a court decision,” Efi Xanthou, of the Greens Party, wrote on her Facebook page.

By Tuesday noon about 100 protesters of all ages from the surrounding communities were at the site, sheltering from the sun under makeshift structures.

Marina Nikiforou of the group “Communities in Action” that is spearheading the protests told Politis radio, said that there was outrage at the arrest of the community leaders.

“The two community leaders were there before the rest of the people gathered to protest, since today the work to relocate the asphalt plant began. Their goal is to stop its installation, since more than 10,000 residents from communities in the area are affected,” Nikiforou said.

The protestors held banners that read: “We will not allow an asphalt factory in our area,” and “Pollution does not get relocated it gets abolished.”

“We are here under police guard, with 30 police cars, just because we are asking to breathe clean air,” a speaker at the protest said.

The area is the “most polluted in Cyprus” with over 100 nuisance activities that lead to “dire consequences on the health and quality of life of residents,” according to the initiative group said.

A police spokesperson told CyBC radio that 40 members of the police were present at the protest to keep the peace and allow the scheduled relocation to go ahead as planned.

The Cyprus environmental movement group (PKK) condemned what it described the “arbitrary” actions of the Anastasiades government which, “through use of police force, is imposing the installation of the asphalt plant in Mitsero against the will of the area’s residents.”

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These residents have been in “a long-term struggle with the support of public opinion” to protect the already strained environmental conditions of their area through legal means, the NGO added.

In response police had arrested two elected local leaders and violently attacked peacefully protesting citizens, who were demanding the obvious – a healthy environment for their children.

The PKK added it stood fully by the residents and called for the release of those arrested, immediate removal of what it termed “excessive police force” and the cessation of any work to install the “death factory” asphalt plant.

Political parties and other organisations echoed the criticism of police.  Akel’s Christos Christofides said the government had shown “unprecedented authoritarianism” as if they were dealing with criminals. He said the asphalt factories needed to be relocated from Dali, but the solution was not to take poison and death from one inhabited area to another.

This was especially the case for Mitsero, where the environment is already burdened. Instead of showing political will, the government has opted to serve large financial interests, he added.

The Greens said they had sent a delegation in support to residents who the party said were justifiably frustrated with the government’s plans to further burden the environment in the area.

“Residents at today’s event realised what the Republic of Cyprus is. What happened, with tension, arrests and police guarding the area are unacceptable and must be condemned,” said Nicosia district secretary for the Greens, Yiorgos Perdikis.

“Pollution should not be relocated but eliminated and illegally should not be rewarded,” he said.

The Union of Cypriot communities also condemned the arrest of the two community leaders and expressed solidarity with the 12 communities.

The relocation of the plant was decided following a relevant cabinet decision in 2020 to move three asphalt plants from the Tseri and Yeri area.  These are expected to be relocated to Mitsero, Kalavasos and Koshi areas.

A building permit has been obtained for the Mitsero relocation, but the residents are appealing the process in court.

 

Video from Facebook page of the action committee set up by the 12 communities near Mitsero