Demetris Christofias, Cyprus’s first communist president whose troubled tenure was marked by near financial ruin that led to an international rescue, uproar over a deadly Iranian munitions blast and failure to end the country’s ethnic division, died June 21 in the capital city of Nicosia. He was 72.
Mr. Christofias, who was president from 2008 to 2013, had been in critical condition since being admitted to a Nicosia hospital in May. Mr. Christofias’s personal doctor, Michael Minas, confirmed the death to the state-run Cyprus News Agency. No cause was announced.
Mr. Christofias was the only Cypriot president not to seek reelection, citing his failure to achieve his “life’s vision” of reunifying the country that had been split since Turkey invaded in 1974 following a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.
After his March 2008 rise to power, Mr. Christofias was hailed as the leader with the best chance to achieve a peace breakthrough that had eluded his predecessors, thanks to his long-standing ties with the Turkish Cypriot left-wing trade union movement.
The optimism faded as talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders dragged on over five years without tangible results. Some faulted Christofias for allowing momentum to drain from the process.
“I will leave truly miserable because what I had promised can’t happen given Turkey’s intransigence, so from here on in, I’ll suffer along with you as a common citizen,” Mr. Christofias told municipal officials shortly before leaving office in 2013.
Christofias’s election offered a curious paradox of Cypriot politics — an avowed communist in charge of a country with a free-market economy that boasted membership in the European Union, which Mr. Christofias’s party had once denounced as being in league with the “imperialist” NATO alliance.
But as his presidency wore on and the economy began to tank, many came to view him as ill-equipped to govern, especially in matters of the economy.
Mr. Christofias’s reputation took a hit after the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion on July 11, 2011. Munitions that had been stored outside the base combusted after a fire, killing 13 people and knocking out power for many people across the island. The blast sparked weeks of protests calling for Mr. Christofias’s resignation over his administration’s perceived incompetence.
Mr. Christofias denied he was at fault for the explosion, despite a subsequent investigation putting the blame on him.
“I’m easy with my conscience,” he said in a 2012 interview, insisting that he was the target of a “war of extermination” by his political opponents.
The disaster exacerbated an acute banking crisis that had locked Mr. Christofias into a feud with the former governor of the central bank, Athanasios Orphanides.
Another inquiry held Mr. Christofias primarily responsible for bringing the country to near-bankruptcy because he pursued “reckless” economic policies, maintained high spending despite warnings and pushed back talks on an international bailout.
Mr. Christofias deemed the inquiry “illegal” and the report “fraught with untruths and slander.”
Opinion polls showed Mr. Christofias with some of the lowest approval ratings of any Cypriot president.
The son of a builder, Mr. Christofias was born in Dikomo, Cyprus, on Aug. 29, 1946. He was educated in the Soviet Union and had a long association with Cyprus’s communist Progressive Party of the Working People. In 1988, he became the party’s youngest-ever secretary general at age 41.
Mr. Christofias underwent a lifesaving kidney transplant in 1999 in which the donor was his sister. He also had open-heart surgery that same year.
Survivors include his wife, Elizabeth; three children; and several grandchildren.
Read more Washington Post obituaries