Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Grave robbers steal former Cyprus president's remains

Police investigate the grave of Tassos Papadopoulos in Nicosia, 11 December 2009
The theft was discovered by one of the former leader's guards on Friday

Thieves have stolen the remains of Tassos Papadopoulos, the former president of the Republic of Cyprus, police say.

Mr Papadopoulos' body was removed after his grave in Nicosia was broken into overnight, officials said.

Mr Papadopoulos died of lung cancer in Nicosia in 2008, aged 74.

The theft from the Deftera village cemetery in Nicosia was discovered a day before the first anniversary of his death.

The desecration was discovered by one of Mr Papadopoulos's former guards who lights a candle in the cemetery every morning, the official Cyprus News Agency reports.

The robbers are thought to have worked during torrential rain overnight, lifting a marble slab weighing 250kg before unearthing the coffin and removing the corpse.

Eloquence and anger

The theft has been widely condemned. Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias described it as "sacrilege".

"It is an immoral and condemnable act which is a blight to our culture and respect for our dead," said Mr Christofias on the sidelines of the European Council summit in Brussels.

Tassos Papadopoulos, file pic from 2007
Born in 1934
Trained as a barrister in London during the 1950s
Achieved prominence in the political wing of the right-wing paramilitary group EOKA
Became youngest government minister, aged 24, in 1959 after independence from British rule
Occupied several ministerial positions, before narrowly winning the presidential election in 2003
Lost a bid for a second term as president in February 2008, before dying in December 2008

Marios Garoyan, leader of the former president's centre-right Diko party, condemned the act as a "heinous and terrible crime", AFP reported.

Andros Kyprianou, the head of Cyprus' ruling Akel party, described it as "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," he said.

The motive for the theft remains unclear, investigators say. But it is bound to stir up passions over a UN-led peace effort aimed at reuniting the Turkish and Greek parts of the island, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

Mr Papadopoulos was vehemently opposed to the peace plan, and his eloquence and anger convinced a resounding majority of Greek Cypriots to vote against it in a referendum, while Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favour.

A veteran of Greek Cypriot politics, he became president in 2003 but lost a bid for a second term in 2008. He was defeated by Demetris Christofias, a former coalition partner.

One of the former president's achievements was to oversee the Republic of Cyprus's entry into the European Union in 2004.

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