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Court proceedings began in Cyprus Monday into last year's explosion of confiscated Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people and triggered a political crisis that damaged the presidency of Dimitris Christofias.

Eight people face charges of manslaughter and negligence causing death, including ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou and ex-Defense Minister Costas Papacostas. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum life in prison.

Both men resigned in the wake of the July 11 blast that nearly ruined the island's largest power station and touched off weeks of street protests over what many saw as his government's botched handling of the affair.

Kyprianou and Papacostas appeared in a Larnaca courtroom alongside all the co-accused that included senior National Guard and Fire Department officers, except former National Guard Chief Petros Tsalikides, a Greek national.

The court approved a state prosecutor's request for an arrest warrant against Tsalikides and postponed all proceedings until May 18. All the accused were released on €150,000 ($198,000) bail.

Police officers had to restrain some victims' relatives from charging the accused's vehicles as they arrived at the courts complex. One black-clad man shouted "murderers" while being held back by police.

Kyprianou had previously said that he believed the case to be a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at finding scapegoats for the disaster.


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