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Greek Government Faces Pressure as Fires Rage in South

The Greek government is facing pressure for a fourth day from opposition parties and the public as fire continues to threaten the southern part of the country. The fires have left thousands homeless, and at least 64 people died. Nathan Morley reports for VOA from Nicosia that more than 8,000 people demonstrated late Wednesday in front of the parliament building in Athens.

Opposition leader George Papandreou said the government had proved "pitifully incapable" of dealing with fires throughout the summer and had not been able to save the lives, property and homes of Greek citizens.

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Papandreou said the government was ill prepared.

"We had these fires now for over three month's, and we certainly would have expected much more vigilance, preparation and coordination from the top," he said. "I feel that the government has cut back on financing and training and in organization in this area, when we all knew that the climate changes were a threat to our forest fires."

Mr. Papandreou also dismissed suggestions that terrorism was behind the disaster, saying the problem was simply the state's inability to deal with large-scale fires of this nature and magnitude.

"We have seen much discussion about possible terrorist threats, I think this is simply nonsense, and this nonsense may have more to do with the elections than any real threat," added Mr. Papandreou.

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros says the administration has done everything it can under the difficult circumstances.

"What we experienced in the past five to six days, it is an overwhelming outbreak of fires, forest fires throughout the country and the extreme, severe weather conditions, and we had a series of fires that no other country in Europe has ever experienced before," he said.

The headline on the front page of the leading Athens daily CHORA read, "People's Rage: Thousands Homeless From Fires".

Many Greeks believe land developers are responsible for burning forests to make way for new construction, taking advantage of the lack of a land registry and clear zoning laws.

Some estimates in the Greek media claim damages from the fires to be around $1 billion.

A government-led effort to aid stricken individuals and areas has started, with an emergency allocation of 3,000 euros per affected household being handed out.

The cash payments are in addition to of a series of measures to aid homeowners, farmers, and business owners. Nearly 150 million euros has been pledged by private individuals and companies to help those in need.

There has been widespread praise for emergency services and those involved in the relief effort, even institutions such as the Boy Scouts have been helping in the aid effort.

"We organized a camp with food, water, facilities and medical help," said Scoutmaster Victor Stevanakis.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI sharply condemned the arsonists during his general audience at St. Peter's Square, saying "Arson is a criminal act."