Akel locks on to missile issue

By Charlie Charalambous

AKEL turned up the heat on the government yesterday, challenging it to come clean over when the much delayed S-300 missiles will arrive – if at all.

Party spokesman and deputy Nicos Katsourides described the government’s handling of the missile deal as “pure theatre”, and blamed its indecisiveness on the current impasse.

“We call on the government to state when the missiles are coming,” Katsourides said.

The island’s second largest party, languishing in opposition since its failed bid to get George Iacovou elected as president in February, has criticised the government for not consulting it over the missile deal.

And it has adopted the controversial S-300 missile issue as a stick with which to beat the government and make political capital from their non- arrival.

“Contracts were signed in January 1997 by the defence and finance ministers, and it came to the House one and half months later,” said Katsourides.

“The same happened with the agreement to postpone their arrival: it was signed without consultation and this shows a lack of democracy.”

But the signals emanating from Akel HQ are also confused; on the one hand the party is saying it did not officially approve the missile deal, and on the other it seemingly blames the government for buckling under international pressure to postpone their deployment.

In a move to put the government on the spot, Akel deputy Doros Christodoulides went public on Thursday over the cost of the missile deal and the $1 million a month the taxpayer will have to pay for their storage in Russia.

Christodoulides said the deal was worth $227 million but postponement beyond November 1 would incur the $1 million storage fee.

Government spokesman Christos Stylianides would not be drawn on the missile row yesterday, but he dismissed the Akel deputies figures as “incorrect”.

“This issue should be kept out of the public domain, and what was said was not correct,” he said.

But this official denial did not placate Katsourides, who demanded that the government publish those terms of the missile contract with Russia which refer to storage and maintenance.

Disy leader Nicos Anastassiades yesterday echoed President Clerides earlier’ reaction when he said that Akel had raised no protest when the House approved the funds for the S-300s.

“George Iacovou, backed by Akel, said he would bring the missiles before Clerides during the election (campaign),” Anastassiades said to prove his point.