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Greece's fires dominate political debate before early elections

Greece's fires dominate political debate before early elections

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis seemed likely to win re-election when he called early polls less than two weeks ago.
But catastrophic wildfires that began late Thursday and killed at least 64 people have left his conservatives reeling from charges of incompetence, and his government's suggestions that the fires resulted from an organized attack could easily backfire.
The fires ravaged nearly 200,000 hectares in just three days. Across the country, many continued to blaze out of control Tuesday.
Greeks, already stunned by deadly forest fires in June and July, have been infuriated by the deaths and destruction, and the fires are already dominating the political debate before the elections on Sept. 16.
The polls will be "the elections of rage," Athens daily To Vima said in a front-page headline.
The government, which declared a nationwide state of emergency Saturday, has announced a series of financial and material benefits and aid for those affected by the fires, and all bureaucratic procedures were waived in order to make it easy for help to reach those who need it quickly.
"It is at times like these that a society must show its solidarity," Karamanlis said Tuesday. "At this time, all Greeks must be united."
But many have blamed the government for disorganization and failing to respond quickly enough.
"Unfortunately, the government of Mr. Karamanlis has disappointed the Greek people. It has been woefully unable to deal with the major issue of the fires all summer," main opposition socialist leader George Papandreou said. "Unfortunately, it didn't even manage to save people's lives, their property and their homes."
The government's repeated suggestions over the past few days that the fires were the result of an organized plan of arson _ potentially carried out by some ill-defined group with a nefarious objective _ have also led to confusion and anger.
Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras implied on Sunday that a deliberate plan was in motion.
"We can say that this truly constitutes an asymmetric threat," he said _ but did not clarify what he meant. He said the Secret Service and anti-terrorism squad had joined police in investigating the blazes.
"We have indications (arsonists were involved), witness testimonies and finds which require investigation," he said.
Karamanlis himself has implied arson is to blame, saying on Saturday it could not be coincidence that so many fires broke out simultaneously in so many areas.
Papandreou accused the prime minister of scare-mongering while Greece burned.
The government "is dealing with and fabricating theories about terrorist conspiracies. The result is that the country is vilified, democratic institutions are undermined, the Greek people are terrorized," he said. Greece "cannot endure a government supported by fear, insecurity, division, fanaticism, that creates chaos."
Yiannis Ragoussis, socialist party spokesman, accused the government of "trying to create a Sept. 11 type of climate" by implying Greece was facing a terrorist threat.
"It is in fact communications strategy for Sept. 16," election day, he said.
In an indirect barb at political parties' exchange of insults and blame, President Karolos Papoulias called on Greeks to show "maturity."
"It is a national tragedy. We all know this and it is the duty of all of us in these times to show maturity, to face this tragedy," Papoulias said.


Updated : 2020-12-03 03:50 GMT+08:00