Cyprus axes police chief after protesters gatecrash peace event

NICOSIA Thu Mar 27, 2014 12:45pm EDT

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus's president fired the island's police chief on Thursday, accusing him of incompetence after Greek Cypriot activists disrupted an event involving a leading figure in the Turkish Cypriot community.

Supporters of ELAM, a far-right Greek Cypriot group which describes itself as an affiliate of the Golden Dawn party of Greece, attempted on Wednesday evening to gatecrash a university debate featuring former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on reunification.

Cyprus's Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have lived apart since the island was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion following a brief Greek-inspired coup. Reunification talks were re-launched after an 18-month hiatus on February 11.

One person was slightly injured when about 100 protesters holding Greek flags entered the building hosting the event in the southern port city of Limassol. Three people were arrested.

In a letter to police chief Michalis Papageorgiou, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the incident was the latest in a series of security lapses. The termination was with immediate effect, Anastasiades said in a written statement.

Police were also blamed for failures during anti-privatization protests in February, when demonstrators attempted to storm parliament.

"The state will not tolerate any form of fascist behavior, from anyone and whomever, not least from an overwhelmingly small minority proclaiming themselves the so-called protectors of Cypriot Hellenism," Anastasiades said, referring to the ELAM group.

ELAM, which polled barely one percent in 2011 parliamentary elections and less in 2013 presidential elections, called Talat's presence a "provocation".

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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