Police in Cyprus have begun clamping down on overzealous bonfire enthusiasts ahead of the Easter holiday celebrations.
Indications that the police were set to have their hands full this Easter began last week when complaints from members of the public began pouring in. Complaints included the theft of wood from businesses or homes, trees being cut down and loud firework explosions in neighbourhoods.
This year’s Easter, will see both the Eastern and Western Easters coincide on the same dates on April 20.
One of the popular customs accompanying Orthodox Easter in Cyprus is the lighting of bonfires (lambradjia) on the night of Easter Saturday and the exploding of fireworks. The burning of the bonfires is meant to symbolise ‘the burning of Judas’ where an effigy of Judas Iscariot is torched.
But overzealous followers of the tradition have been known to split into neighbourhood gangs – consisting mostly of pre-teens and teenagers – and resort to theft and even violence in order to either collect wood for their bonfires or to steal wood from rival gangs.
The gangs have also been known to take turns standing guard at nights in order to protect their bonfires. Parents have in the past been cautioned by police officers after minors were caught guarding bonfires late at night.
Others have also been known to steal wood from either businesses or homes while some resort to cutting down trees.
A Forestry Department announcement recently warned that offenders caught cutting down trees will face prosecution with legislation providing for a fine of up to €5,000 or even up to one year in prison.
Commenting on the yearly phenomenon which is once again expected to accompany Easter in Cyprus, Police Spokesman Andreas Angelides yesterday told state radio that “as of today [yesterday], patrols will intensify in a bid to prevent any unpleasantness or accidents from occurring”.
Police and Fire Services officers joined forces over the weekend sweeping through neighbourhoods throughout Cyprus to inspect bonfire piles. Officers are also urging lambradjia enthusiasts to ensure that they light their bonfires away from houses, schools, churches and fields that run the risk of a fire.