NICOSIA – The Cypriot government, which denied knowing a United Kingdom military base on the island would be used to send jets for an airstrike against Syria’s use of chemical weapons, is facing a strong backlash and protests.
Demonstrators gathered outside the base, the last vestige of the Colonial days when Great Britain ruled the island, with more than 350 condemning its use for the strikes which seemed to mystify the office of President Nicos Anastasiades despite widespread days ahead of the strikes that British pilots there would join the US-led coalition hit.
The protesters, like those in Athens who also were upset at the strike and had denied chemical weapons were used, including against women and children despite verified independent photos and videos, called for the airbase to be closed, The Guardian’s Helena Smith reported.
Some sprayed “NATO killers go home” in red paint on a wall outside the enclave’s entrance leading Anastasiades’ office to explain what it knew after denying it knew anything that the strikes would happen.
“We do not want Cyprus to be involved in any military operation and that includes using the British bases as a launching pad for strikes against Syria,” Stefanos Stefanou, a spokesman of the main opposition AKEL party, told the Guardian.
“In our view the bases are an anachronism and their role should be raised with the British government,” he said. Anastasiades’ office had also said Cypriot airspace wasn’t used without explaining how that could happen once the jets lifted off into Cypriot airspace.
Four Tornadoes took off from the base on April 14 with eight Storm Shadow missiles for a strike against a chemical weapons factory west of Homs, the paper said.
RAF Akrotiri is Britain’s main forward mounting base for overseas operations in the Middle East and has been used frequently to carry out airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.
The facility is part of the 99-square-mile area retained by Britain in 1960 when Cyprus became independent. Eight Typhoons and six Tornadoes are stationed there.
The Cypriot government tried to defend itself by saying it didn’t receive advance notice how the base would be used and that British Prime Minister Theresa May called Anastasiades only several hours after it began.
Prodromos Prodromou, the Cypriot government spokesman, said that while Nicosia had not been forewarned, May had reassured Anastasiades that the island would not be endangered by what she described as “limited use of the bases”.
Speaking before the strikes, Prodromou said there was no requirement to inform the Cypriot government anyway. “What the British authorities decide to do on the sovereign bases is not within the control of the Republic of Cyprus,” he said. “They are not obliged to give information to us. We have no say in what goes on in them, although unofficially, as a matter of courtesy, lets say, they will often inform us.”