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French Official Offers to Resign Over Heat Wave Crisis - 2003-08-18

French Surgeon-General Lucien Abenhaim has offered to resign after being criticized for his handling of the health crisis brought on by the recent heat wave. It was not immediately clear if his resignation would be accepted.

Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei, who is also under criticism for slow response, said Monday the heat could plausibly be blamed for 5,000 deaths eventually but that an accurate accounting will take several weeks.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin angrily accused critics of playing politics with human tragedy.

The French government says it will remain on alert in case temperatures soar again.

During the past two weeks, temperatures in Paris rose as high as 42 degrees. Temperatures in London, Rome and Madrid were also were over 40. Monday weather is cooler, but meteorologists say the heat could be back later this week.

Welcome but dangerous rainstorms damaged parts of southern France Sunday with wind gusts up to 130 kph.

In southern Europe - particularly Portugal - the hot weather has produced huge forest fires. Thousands of farmers are dealing also with severe losses of crops and livestock.