Blaze at Russian Cultural Centre raises doubts

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A large fire caused extensive damage to Cyprus’ landmark Russian Cultural Centre in the heart of the capital Nicosia with authorities not ruling out malicious intent, the fire service said Wednesday.

The fire caused extensive damage to the centre’s interior and exterior before being contained.

Officials said arson has not been ruled out at this stage.

The department said it responded to the fire at the centre at around 13.45 local time needing fire five engines to control it.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the causes of the blaze.

Eyewitnesses saw a large plume of smoke visible as flames seemed to engulf the outside of the building, while others said they heard explosions.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, the Fire Service spokesperson Andreas Kettis confirmed that firefighters were putting out the last pockets of fire in the building, which suffered extensive damage.

Asked whether firefighters had found evidence of arson, Kettis said it was still too early to conclude.

“We are still busy putting out the last pockets of the fire.

“The causes will be investigated by the fire department in cooperation with the Cyprus Police and other state services,” said Kettis.

He said several oxygen cylinders in the building –under renovation — were removed by firefighters.

The centre – under the auspices of the Russian embassy — was built in 1978 and used by schools for cultural events.

Officials said it was too early to determine the cause of the fire.

But Russian state news agency Tass said it was told by centre head Alina Radchenko that the building “caught fire after Molotov cocktails were thrown”.

“Two strong explosions occurred; walls and the rooftop are burning,” she said.

“People have been evacuated.

“The police have cordoned off the building; firefighters are at the scene.

“According to eyewitnesses, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the building.”

The police or fire officials could not confirm this.