Cyprus president fires police chief over serial killer investigations

Cyprus president fires police chief over serial killer investigations
Divers and forensic officers search Kokkinopezoula lake, also known as "red lake", for possible bodies of victims of a suspected serial killer near the village of Mitsero, Cyprus, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou -
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NICOSIA (Reuters) - The president of Cyprus fired the country's police chief on Friday over what he described as a failure to promptly investigate the disappearances of women and girls, after a suspected serial killer's murders were discovered by accident.

Four women have been found murdered in the past three weeks, their bodies dumped in three locations west of the capital Nicosia. A 35-year-old career army officer is in custody and has confessed to seven killings in total.

Investigations are under way into three other disappearances, including those of two girls aged 6 and 8.

The magnitude of the crime was unknown when tourists accidentally found a bound body in a mine shaft flooded by heavy rain on April 14.

Police were accused of failing to investigate the disappearances properly when they were first reported.

Police have so far identified only one victim, as Marry Rose Tiburcio from the Philippines. She went missing with her 6-year-old daughter Sierra in May last year.

On Friday, President Nicos Anastasiades cited "apparent negligence" by police in failing to promptly investigate reports of missing persons, which he said led him to sack police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou.

"I was led to the unpleasant position of having to terminate your service as police chief of Cyprus," Anastasiades wrote to Chrysostomou in a letter released to the media.

"The head of an authority, even if he does not bear personal responsibility, must assume the responsibility of restoring the damaged reputation of the body he leads."

A day earlier, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou stepped down. He said his resignation was not an assumption of blame, but that there were "apparent shortcomings" in how police, which come under his ministry's supervision, had investigated the reports of the women's disappearances. Police say they will conduct an investigation into any perceived shortcomings.

British police are also assisting inquiries.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Peter Graff)

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