NICOSIA  - A European arrest warrant was issued Monday against former Cyprus army chief Petros Tsalikides, charged in connection with a deadly munitions blast, after he failed to appear in court, officials said. Tsalikides’ seven co-defendants were in court on Monday but did not have the charges read out to them, nor were they asked to enter a plea. The hearing at Larnaca district court on the island’s south coast was adjourned until May 18 in order to give time for the former army commander - a Greek national living in Greece - to appear. The judge agreed to a prosecution request to issue an arrest warrant for him in light of the no show.

Former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and ex-defence minister Costas Papacostas are among the eight public officials facing prosecution over the July 11 blast that killed 13 people and injured 62.

They were released on a 150,000 euro bail guarantee to appear in court next month.

They face a total of 208 charges including manslaughter, causing death through negligence, dereliction of duty and acts which caused bodily harm in connection with the deadly munitions blast that also crippled Cyprus’ main power plant.

Manslaughter, the most serious offence, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The other accused are army deputy commander Savvas Argyrou and army Colonel George Georgiades, along with fire chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy fire chief Pambos Charalambous and commander of the fire service’s disaster reaction unit, Andreas Loizides.

There were some angry scenes outside the courthouse amid a heavy police.

A public inquiry found President Demetris Christofias responsible for the explosion, but there was never any possibility of legal proceedings against him as the constitution gives him immunity from prosecution.

Kyprianou, Papacostas and the army commander all resigned over the blast. The deputy commander was sacked.

There was a public outcry after munitions stored at a naval base for three years exploded despite repeated warnings that they were unsafe, and street protests called for Christofias to quit.

Some 98 containers were piled up unprotected at the Mari naval base, just 150 metres (yards) from the power station.

They were seized in February 2009 when Cyprus intercepted a Cypriot-flagged freighter bound from Iran for Syria and a UN sanctions committee said the consignment contravened a ban on Iranian arms shipments.

Christofias said the decision to keep the weapons on the island was “correct” and refused to step down.

The public inquiry said the munitions were kept in Cyprus to placate Syria and Iran in a risky diplomatic game.

The loss of the power plant led to rolling daily power cuts and economic disruption that has hit growth targets for the next two years.