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Fires Rage in Greece For Fifth Day


Forest fires continue to rage in Greece's mountainous southern peninsula of Peloponnese. At least 63 people have died in the blazes, which are now in their fifth day. Police have charged seven people with arson and are offering a $1.4 million reward for information leading to more arrests. Nathan Morley reports for VOA that Greek voters go to polls in September and the fires may play a big role.

Political commentators in Athens say whether the fires will have an effect on next month's general election depends on how the public judges the government's handling of the crisis.

But opposition politician Stavros Lambrinidis, a member of the European Parliament, tells VOA that now was not the time for political parties to fight. He says the country is under a state of emergency and this is a time for political unity.

"People can draw their conclusions without us politicians getting involved," he said. "What we should get involved in is insuring that not one more life gets lost and not one more livelihood gets destroyed. And this a tough job ahead of us, we have to get it done. When I say we, I mean the government, but we as opposition have to push them to do it."

Scores of people gathered in Athens to voice their anger over what they described as the governments botched handling of the fires. Many of the demonstrators were from left-wing and peace groups.

Property developers have been accused of starting some of the fires to clear the land for future construction. It is a charge that angers Stratos Paradias, head of the Hellenic Property Federation, a group that defends the interests of property owners.

"In my opinion there is not a chance that it might be some companies, some land developers or land seekers behind this disaster, we have, especially in the area of the Peloponnese," he said. "This is because the legislation we have here in Greece today strictly provides that within three months from the day a forest area is burnt it goes under special legislation for re-forestation. These accusations have no base at all."

The government has confirmed that trees will be re-planted in all the fire zones. The environmental group Greenpeace has said that weak environmental laws, careless farmers and garbage dumps are the main reasons for the fires.

Nikos Charalambides, director of Greenpeace in Greece, tells VOA that it is too early to establish who is responsible for the fires.

"What we can say, though, and that's something we can proves through facts and figures and statistics over the years, is that statistically the most frequent causes of fires in Greece [...] are either sparks from electric wires or illegal dump sites which are set on fire, either intentionally or accidentally, especially in summertime due to high temperatures," he noted.

To add to the misery of the devastating fires, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of five struck southern Greece Tuesday. The quake panicked residents in the region and was felt in areas where firefighters were battling blazes.

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