Corpse robbery shocks Cypriots

Papadopoulos was Cyprus’s president from 2003 to 2008. Papadopoulos was Cyprus’s president from 2003 to 2008.
Associated Press / December 12, 2009

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NICOSIA, Cyprus - Grave robbers stole the corpse of Tassos Papadopoulos, Cyprus’s former hard-line president, digging up his coffin during a thunderstorm just before the first anniversary of his death, police said yesterday.

The body-snatching horrified people in Cyprus and came as the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are locked in complex reunification talks that have made limited progress.

Police said the tomb raiders struck late Thursday or early yesterday. There was no immediate indication of a motive.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said three people were detained for questioning but released without charge. He gave no more details.

President Demetris Christofias, who beat Papadopoulos in March 2008 elections, urged Cypriots “to remain calm in the face of this provocative act.’’

Papadopoulos is seen by some nationalist Greek Cypriots as a symbol of resistance against peace deals they believe have been weighted against them.

“What happened is macabre and utterly condemnable. I am honestly still trying to comprehend what kind of warped minds could even think of doing such a thing, let alone actually carry it out,’’ said Andros Kyprianou, the head of Cyprus’s ruling AKEL party.

He urged that those responsible be “caught and made an example of.’’

Mounds of fresh earth were piled by the fenced-off grave site yesterday at the Deftera Village Cemetery as about 80 police and two pathologists combed the area and nearby fields for clues.

The robbers removed a heavy marble plaque from on top of the grave, police said, dug down to the coffin, and took the body of Papadopoulos, who died of lung cancer Dec. 12, 2008, at 74.

Papadopoulos was president from 2003 to 2008, ushering the ethnically divided island into the European Union in 2004.

He was a central figure of Cypriot politics for decades, with a career spanning most of the island’s turbulent history since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.

The island was split in 1974 into a Turkish-occupied north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by those wanting to unify the island with Greece.