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Cyprus ex-defense minister gets 5-year jail term over blast

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Cypriot criminal court on Friday sentenced the former defense minister to five years in prison in the 2011 blast of 480 tons of seized Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people, knocked out Cyprus’ main power station, and stirred up a political crisis.

The three-judge bench sentenced Costas Papacostas, 74, after finding him guilty last month of negligent manslaughter for not taking steps to prevent the explosion.

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The 80 containers were piled up in a field at a naval base for more than two years. Authorities said that prolonged exposure to wide temperature swings made the gunpowder unstable and that the spontaneous combustion of one container triggered the disaster.

Officials had warned of the risks that such storage conditions posed. The starkest warning came a week before the fatal blast when some of the gunpowder detonated in a container at the top of the pile.

The gunpowder was confiscated in 2009 from a Cypriot-flagged ship suspected of transporting the material from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza through Syria in breach of a United Nations ban on Iranian arms exports.

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