Greece's Tsipras takes 'political responsibility' for wildfires | Greece News | Al Jazeera

Greece's Tsipras takes 'political responsibility' for wildfires

As anger grows over disaster that killed at least 87, prime minister says he is conflicted over authorities' response.

    The opposition has accused the Greek government of failing to apologise for the wildfires which killed scores [Reuters]
    The opposition has accused the Greek government of failing to apologise for the wildfires which killed scores [Reuters]

    Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has assumed "political responsibility" for the country's deadliest wildfires amid accusations by the opposition that the government failed to protect lives.

    As public anger grew, Tsipras told ministers at a cabinet meeting on Friday that he was conflicted over whether the authorities had done everything right in response to one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory, which killed at least 87 people, including children, east of the capital, Athens.

    "I have called you here today first of all to take full political responsibility for this tragedy in front of my cabinet and the Greek people," he said.

    "I won't hide that I am overwhelmed by mixed feelings right now ... Pain, devastation for the human lives unexpectedly and unfairly lost. But also anguish at whether we acted correctly in everything we did," Tsipras added.

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    After a government news conference on Thursday, the opposition accused Tsipras' administration of failing to apologise for the disaster which hit Mati, a town popular with local tourists, on Monday.

    "This government has just added unbridled cheek to its abject failure in protecting lives and people's property," said Maria Spyraki, spokesperson for the main opposition New Democracy party.

    The conservative party said questions were raised over the number of firefighters available and evacuation procedures.

    Fofi Gennimata, of the opposition Socialist party, called for the government to resign over the disaster. No ministers have stepped down so far.

    "This government is dangerous and must go," Gennimata said.

    The government has announced relief measures including a one-off cash payment for families of the victims [Reuters]

    Investigation

    Officials citing information from satellite maps have said that 13 fires broke out at the same time across the region of Attica - which includes Athens - on Monday.

    Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas on Thursday suggested that arson had played a role in the tragedy in the Rafina area.

    Amid public anger over the government's handling of the aftermath, Toskas said that "a serious piece of information has led to us opening an investigation" into possible "criminal acts".

    "Officials looking into the causes of the fires now believe that there are serious indications of arson," said Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from Mati.

    "This had been the authorities' early suspicion given the speed of the fires that sprung up both east and west of Athens, and also because they appear to have been started simultaneously."

    Barker added that the layout of Mati has also been blamed for making the situation much worse.

    "Many of the houses here sprung up in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with no consideration for escape routes, particularly down to the beach."

    Bodies completely carbonised

    Forensics experts have pressed forward with the difficult task of identifying the bodies of those who died in the tragic incident.

    An official in the identification effort told Greek radio that most of the bodies were completely carbonised, meaning the task will likely take several more days to complete.

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    Rafina Mayor Evangelos Bournous said an evacuation would not have been an option, given the speed at which the fire spread and the haphazard layout of the area, which featured small winding roads and cliffs next to the sea.

    "They speak of an evacuation plan. How can an evacuation plan be implemented on a settlement [built] outside of town planning, which does not have places for people to gather?" Bournous said.

    "The evacuation plan was that everyone tried to leave all together and they got trapped on the coastal road," he said.

    The government has announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000-euro ($11,600) payment for families of the victims.

    Their spouses and near relatives were also offered public sector jobs.

    About 300 firefighters and volunteers were still combing the area on Friday for those still missing. More than 500 homes were destroyed by the blaze.

    Tsipras promised a national plan to tackle decades of unauthorised construction and to reform and upgrade the Civil Protection Service "to guarantee ... that there will be no more tragedies".

    The disaster unleashed a wave of solidarity and many survivors were being looked after by voluntary organisations, who were providing them with accommodation, clothing and food.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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