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Cyprus turns to Interpol over president's body theft

Investigators examine the desecrated grave, 11 December 2009
The grave's inscription was damaged during the theft

Police in the Republic of Cyprus have called on Interpol to help solve the mysterious theft of the corpse of former President Tassos Papadopoulos.

His remains were stolen last week, a day before the first anniversary of the ex-leader's death.

Police have so far failed to establish a motive or arrest suspects and there has been no claim of responsibility.

A police spokesman said he hoped Interpol would help investigators "piece together the puzzle".

"We got some answers on similar cases in other countries and we will be looking at how the criminals operated, and the methodology of the police," said Michalis Katsounotos.

In what police described as a "deliberate and carefully planned" theft, the thieves shifted a marble slab weighing 250kg (40st) to dig up the grave and apparently used asbestos or gypsum to cover their tracks.

Desecration

Authorities believe that more than three people must have been involved in taking the body from its grave.

TASSOS PAPADOPOULOS
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

Justice Minister Loucas Louca said the priority was to solve the case quickly.

The theft has been condemned by representatives from both the island's Greek Orthodox and Muslim communities.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant, in Athens, says the case will stir up passions over peace efforts aimed at reuniting the Turkish and Greek parts of the island.

Papadopoulos made many enemies during a long and eventful political career, after fighting British colonial rule in a guerrilla group.

The pinnacle of his career came in 2004, when he made an emotional denunciation of a UN plan to reunite the island.

His tearful appeal convinced 76% of Greek Cypriots to reject the proposal in a referendum, which Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly approved.

He died on 12 December last year of lung cancer, at the age of 74.



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