The EgyptAir hijacker has been arrested in Cyprus hours after he diverted the domestic Egyptian flight to Larnaca airport and all hostages were released.
EgyptAir Flight MS181 was taken over by a passenger claiming to be wearing a suicide explosive belt.
Airline officials later said they had been told by Cypriot authorities that the belt was fake.
The hijacker’s motives remain unclear but Cyprus President Nicos Anastasides said the incident was not terrorism-related.
No-one was injured in the hijacking, Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodulides tweeted.
After a morning of tension, the hijacker was seen walking down aircraft steps at Larnaca airport with his hands raised.
Some reports said the Egyptian man – named by Cypriot officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa – wanted to talk to his estranged Cypriot wife who lives on the Mediterranean island, while others said he was seeking the release of female prisoners in Egypt.
The hijacker’s surrender came shortly after several people were seen fleeing the aircraft. One – apparently a crew member – escaped by climbing out of the aircraft’s cockpit window.
In a tweet, the Cypriot foreign ministry confirmed the end of the crisis: “It’s over. The hijacker arrested.”
Throughout the morning, passengers had been seen leaving the aircraft after appearing to have been released.
Local media reports said the hijacker had handed over a four-page letter in Arabic after the plane landed at Larnaca in the morning, and that later a woman thought to be his wife had arrived at the airport.
Earlier, President Nicos Anastasiades had responded to a reporter’s question about whether the hijacker was motivated by romance, by laughing and saying: “Always there is a woman involved.”
EgyptAir said the Airbus A320 was carrying 56 passengers from Alexandria to Cairo, along with six crew members and a security official. It had initially said 81 passengers were on board.
A statement from Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said 26 foreign passengers were on board, including eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons, two Greeks, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian.
Larnaca airport, on the south coast of Cyprus, has been closed and scheduled flights diverted elsewhere.
Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish leaders have for the first time given a joint TV address to wish residents a happy holiday.
President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they hoped for a peace deal in 2016.
The latest round of negotiations aiming at reunification of the divided island has been going on for more than seven months.
The Turkish-controlled north broke away in 1974 after a Greek-inspired coup.
Nicos Anastasiades said his wish was for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to be able to live peacefully together in a reunified Cyprus, while Mustafa Akinci said he hoped 2016 would bring lasting peace for all.
“I wish the New Year will bring lasting peace, serenity and prosperity to all Cypriots,” Mustafa Akinci was quoted as saying by the Cyprus Mail.
According to the Cyprus Mail, Nicos Anastasiades and Muastafa Akinci will meet three times in January.
In 2004, Greek Cypriots rejected a UN plan to reunify the island. They were unhappy at limits on their right to return to property in the Turkish north.
Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan.
The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is diplomatically isolated, recognized only by Turkey.
UN peacekeeping forces estimate that 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled or were expelled from the north, and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots from the south, although the parties to the conflict say the figures are higher.
President Nicos Anastasiades has urged eurozone leaders to revise the terms of Cyprus’ bank bailout, in a highly critical letter.
Nicos Anastasiades said the “haircut” imposed on large deposits under the 10 billion-euro bailout had significantly eroded the capital kept by businesses in banks.
Losses were imposed on big deposits in Bank of Cyprus (BoC) and Laiki Bank. BoC is now in trouble, the letter said.
The letter to Cyprus’s creditors, sent last week, was leaked on Wednesday.
“I urge you to support a long-term solution to Bank of Cyprus’ thin liquidity position,” Nicos Anastasiades said.
Laiki Bank is being wound up and its safe assets transferred to BoC.
For large depositors at both banks the first 100,000 euros is protected, but the government can tap up to 40% of their remaining deposits, to contribute billions towards the bailout.
President Nicos Anastasiades has urged eurozone leaders to revise the terms of Cyprus’ bank bailout, in a highly critical letter
But Nicos Anastasiades complained that “no distinction was made between long-term deposits earning high returns and money flowing through current accounts, such as firms’ working capital”.
“This amounted to a significant loss of working capital for businesses.”
The rescue was agreed in March with the troika of international lenders – the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Capital restrictions imposed to prevent a run on Cypriot banks have been eased, but remain in place. The president said such “artificial” measures “will only aggravate the depositors the longer they persist”.
“Rather than creating confidence in the banking system they are eroding it by the day,” Nicos Anastasiades warned.
The text of his letter appeared on the Open Europe think tank’s blog on Wednesday. His complaints about the bailout were also reported by the Financial Times.
Unnamed eurozone officials quoted by Reuters news agency say there are no plans to alter the terms of the bailout for Cyprus or to supply more funds.
Eurozone finance ministers will discuss the letter at a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, Reuters reports.
Cyprus has started receiving installments of the bailout package from international creditors.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades says he is battling against eurozone demands that all bank customers pay a one-off levy in return for a bailout.
Nicos Anastasiades said he shared people’s unhappiness with the terms, whereby all bank customers would pay a levy of 6.75% or 10% on their bank deposits.
The EU and IMF have demanded the levy in return for a 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bank bailout.
An emergency session of parliament has been postponed until Monday.
Nicos Anastasiades said it was the worst crisis since Turkey invaded in 1974.
“I fully share the unhappiness caused by a difficult and painful decision,” he said.
“That’s why I continue to fight with the eurogroup to amend their decisions in the coming hours to limit the impact on small depositors.”
The president said Cyprus had had to choose between stabilizing its finances or the eventual collapse of its financial system and exit from the eurozone.
Under the bailout’s terms, people in Cyprus with less than 100,000 euros in their accounts would have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%. Those with sums over that threshold would pay 9.9% in tax.
Depositors will be compensated with the equivalent amount in shares in their banks, and Nicos Anastasiades promised that those who kept deposits in Cypriot banks for the next two years would be given bonds linked to revenues from natural gas.
Cyprus announced the discovery of a field containing between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under the Mediterranean Sea in 2011 but Turkey disputes its drilling rights.
It is believed that eurozone leaders, particularly in Germany, insisted on the levy because of the large amount of Russian capital kept in Cypriot banks, amid fears of money-laundering.
The speaker of the European Parliament, Germany’s Martin Schulz, has called for the levy to be revised to protect small-scale bank customers.
It is now clear that negotiators of the bailout in Brussels drastically underestimated the reaction in Cyprus.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades says he is battling against eurozone demands that all bank customers pay a one-off levy in return for a bailout
A tiny eurozone economy feels it is being blackmailed by the most powerful, and the growing resentment will do nothing to foster European solidarity.The solution we concluded is not what we wanted but is the least painful under the circumstances,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on TV.
“I bear the political cost for this, in order to limit as much as possible the consequences for the economy and for our fellow Cypriots.”
The vote in parliament has been postponed to Monday afternoon. If the deal is defeated, state media say banks could be closed on Tuesday so as to avoid mass withdrawals.
The Cypriot president’s Democratic Rally party – which has 20 seats in the 56-member assembly – needs support from other factions to ratify the bailout.
Opposition leader George Lillikas, an independent, said the president had “betrayed the people’s vote”.
The speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, argued in a newspaper interview that there should be an exemption from the levy for savers, for example, who had less than 25,000 euros in their accounts.
“The solution must be socially acceptable,” Martin Schulz, who belongs to Germany’s opposition Social Democrats, told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, defended the levy, saying: “I think it’s a good step which will certainly make it easier for us to approve the help for Cyprus.”
As with past eurozone bailouts, the deal must be approved by the lower house of parliament in Germany, the EU’s biggest economy.
If the levy goes ahead, it will affect many non-Cypriots with bank accounts.
However, depositors in the overseas arms of Cypriot banks will not be hit.
The levy itself will not take effect until Tuesday, following a public holiday, but action is being taken to control electronic money transfers over the weekend.
Nicos Anastasiades has won the Cypriot presidential election with 57.5% of the vote.
It was a comfortable victory of the centre-right leader over Communist-backed Stavros Malas on 42.5%. Stavros Malas has conceded victory.
Nicos Anastasiades takes power as Cyprus stands on the brink of bankruptcy, hit by the knock-on effect of Greece’s economic woes.
He favors a quick deal with foreign lenders to finalize a bailout of the Cypriot economy.
“It is a clear and strong mandate for change, for reform, for our country to exit this vicious circle of crisis,” Tasos Mitsopoulos, Nicos Anastasiades’s spokesman, told reporters according to Reuters news agency.
Jubilant supporters of Nicos Anastasiades’s Democratic Rally party waved Greek and Cypriot flags, honked car horns and set off firecrackers in the capital Nicosia as the results came in, said reports.
But Stavros Malas warned his party would be “severe critics of anything that diverts from the interest of the people or the country”, said AFP news agency.
The Cypriot economy is in recession and the state has little money in its accounts.
Nicos Anastasiades has won the Cypriot presidential election with 57.5 percent of the vote
Cyprus first asked the EU for a bailout last July to shore up its banks.
Because of the bailout deal for Greece, and the restructuring of its debts, which saw private bondholders suffer big losses, Cypriot banks lost about 75% of their investments.
However, the Cypriot bailout deal has foundered in protracted negotiations.
The new president will have to finalize a deal with the other 16 countries that use the euro and with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Stavros Malas supported a bailout but opposed austerity. Last week’s first round in the presidential election failed to produce a decisive result.
Nicos Anastasiades will aim to exploit massive natural gas finds off Cyprus’s coast, bringing in badly needed income and energy, but risking escalating tensions with Turkey.
He will also be under pressure to reach out to Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island, cut off since Cyprus was formally divided along ethnic lines almost four decades ago.
Who is Nicos Anastasiades?
A member of parliament since 1981 and leader of his centre-right DISY (the Democratic Rally) party since 1997
Says he would support austerity measures which would accompany an EU/IMF rescue package, saying the election is about “the survival of the country”
Heavy smoker known for straight-talking style – sometimes seen as autocratic
Widely respected despite political humiliation nine years ago when he supported a UN blueprint to reunify the island that was later rejected by the public
People in the Republic of Cyprus have begun voting for a new president as centre-right leader Nicos Anastasiades has a 15-point lead in the polls over his main rival, leftist Stavros Malas.
However, Nicos Anastasiades is not predicted to win more than 50% of the vote, which would be required to avoid a run-off vote on 24 February.
The election has been dominated by the global financial crisis. In June, Cyprus became the fifth member of the eurozone to request a bailout.
Shut out of the international financial markets, the cash-strapped government was forced to seek financial help after Cypriot banks suffered huge losses as a result of the restructuring of Greece’s sovereign debt.
It has requested some 17 billion euros ($22.7 billion) from the EU and IMF – a small amount in comparison with other rescues but roughly equal to Cyprus’s gross domestic product.
Negotiations have been stalled by disagreement between the EU, IMF and the outgoing President Demetris Christofias, leader of the communist Akel party, over how to address the country’s debt and who should pay.
Some investors fear that Cyprus will never be able to repay its debt, and many question its commitment to fighting money laundering and its strong links to Russia, which extended a 2.5 billion-euro loan in late 2011.
“Everything is at stake, like it has never been before,” Kyriakos Iacovides, publisher of the Cyprus Mail newspaper, told the Reuters news agency.
“The country must be rebuilt. Cyprus must be rehabilitated in the EU. We need a strong leadership to rebuild the country.”
Centre-right leader Nicos Anastasiades has a 15-point lead in the polls over his main rival, leftist Stavros Malas
Nicos Anastasiades, the head of the centre-right Democratic Rally (DISY) party, has promised a quick agreement on the bailout. He is close to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who expressed support for his bid while visiting Cyprus in January.
According to the latest polls, his closest rival among the 10 other candidates is Stavros Malas, who is backed by Akel, closely followed by Giorgos Lillikas, an independent.
More than 545,000 people are eligible to vote in Cyprus. Another 14,000 Cypriots can vote at embassies abroad.
Voting is scheduled to end at 18:00 and the final result is expected to be announced at around 20:30.
The new president will also face pressure to help reunite the island, divided between Greek and Turkish communities since 1974.
A recent huge natural gas find has given some hope to the country, but with unemployment soaring and recession biting, whoever wins this election will face a daunting task.