Rights groups attack Greece on asylum plan, PM says burden is heavy

Rights groups attack Greece on asylum plan, PM says burden is heavy
By Michele Kambas and George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) – Human rights groups urged Greece on Tuesday to scrap plans they say will restrict access to protection for asylum seekers as the government said the burden of dealing with an influx of migrants was getting too heavy to bear.

Athens is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee arrivals since 2015, when more than a million people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

The conservative government has proposed new legislation that shortens the asylum process by cutting out some options for appeal and makes it easier to deport those rejected.

But aid groups say the draft legislation would make it easier to detain asylum seekers for longer periods, and includes numerous procedural changes that would impede access to a fair asylum process and compromise the right of appeal.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Greece joined United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and a spate of other groups in a chorus of disapproval on Tuesday over the changes.

“The bill is a naked attempt to block access to protection and increase deportations in the face of the recent increase in arrivals,” said Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at HRW.

Amnesty said the bill was a rushed attempt and would be to the detriment of those it purports to protect. Its executive director in Greece, Gabriel Sakellaridis, said the bill was a reflection of a growing ‘toxic’ climate.

“The toxicity in public narrative …and the cultivation of a xenophobic climate identifying people coming to our country as ‘invaders’ is an exceptionally negative development,” he said.

Greece has repeatedly called for a cohesive policy from its European Union partners for an equitable distribution of challenges from the refugee and migration crisis.

“One country alone cannot carry the problems of three continents on its shoulders,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a conference in Athens.

“I’ll be frank. My country is, particularly in the past few months, experiencing an influx of refugees disproportionate to its size.”

His conservative government, which came to power in July, has blamed the former leftist administration for being soft on migration, leaving a backlog of thousands stranded in camps while they exhaust options for seeking protection.

The government has vowed to streamline what it sees as a lengthy asylum process and facilitate the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. It has also made a point to highlight most of the newcomers are ‘economic migrants’.

The bill on reforming the asylum process is due for discussion in parliament this week.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the largest number in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe.

Many are in cramped camps on Greek islands near the Turkish coast, where aid groups say conditions are dire.

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou, Editing by Gareth Jones and Deepa Babington)

Fire resurges on Greece’s Evia, challenges firefighters

A firefighting plane makes a water drop as a wildfire burns near the village of Stavros on the island of Evia, Greece, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Aircraft and firefighters on the ground fought a blaze that burned large tracts of pristine pine forest on the Greek island of Evia on Wednesday as the wildfire flared up again at different spots.

A state of emergency has been declared in regions of the densely forested island east of Athens, after the blaze broke out on Tuesday, fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

The wildfire had prompted the evacuation of villages and spurred an appeal for help from elsewhere in Europe.

Italy sent two aircraft after an appeal for airborne firefighting equipment from Greek authorities. Although conditions had improved by Wednesday morning, new blazes continued to challenge firefighting efforts.

Water dumping by specially equipped aircraft started at first light. “It is a difficult fire, that’s the reality … there is no danger to human life and that is what is important,” Kostas Bakoyannis, the regional governor for central Greece, told Skai TV.

Fire officials said four villages and hundreds of people were evacuated as a precaution on Tuesday and one firefighter was hospitalized after suffering burns.

“The situation in Evia was very difficult and remains difficult,” Christos Stylianides, the European Union’s aid commissioner, said after meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Drawing upon his experience from other forest fires around Europe, Stylianides said he was impressed at the coordination shown among authorities dealing with the emergency, calling firefighters heroes.

“We managed to protect lives and to save people’s property,” Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said.

Greece has bitter memories of a horrific blaze that tore through the seaside town of Mati near Athens in July 2018, killing 102 people in a matter of hours. Authorities were accused then of poor coordination and a slow response.

Mitsotakis, a conservative elected last month, interrupted his holiday on Crete to return to Athens where he was briefed on the situation.

Television images showed flames and plumes of black smoke on mountainsides carpeted in pine. State television said about 28,000 hectares of pine forest was turned to ashes. The smoke was also captured by Copernicus EU satellite imagery.

Copernicus, the European Union’s eyes on earth with two Sentinel-3 satellites in orbit, said it had activated its emergency management service to assist in tracking the wildfire.

Greece often faces wildfires during its dry summer months, and authorities have warned of the high risk of blazes this week. Environmental campaigners see an increasing number of wildfires around the world as a symptom of climate change.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Larry King and Stephen Powell)

Greece to tear down illegal buildings after killer blaze

FILE PHOTO: A local walks on a burnt slope following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

By Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece will demolish thousands of illegal buildings in response to the death of dozens of people who were unable to escape a maze of poorly planned streets in the country’s worst wildfire disaster.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose government has been accused of a slow response, said Greece must no longer allow illegal construction that has been common for decades in a country dogged by bureaucracy and corruption.

The demolition of 3,200 buildings will start immediately in the Attica region, which includes the capital Athens, he said.

“The chaos of unruly construction, which threatens human lives, can no longer be tolerated,” Tsipras said in a speech in the town of Lavrio, down the coast from Mati where at least 91 people died in the blaze on July 23.

Unlicensed constructions are a common feature of the Greek landscape where they even have a name: “afthereta”, or “arbitrary” buildings.

Built with apparent impunity, many are rubber stamped later under general amnesties, announced by successive governments in what critics say is a crude but effective way to wield power and gain votes.

Authorities say there were dozens of such buildings in Mati, where people were trapped, with routes to the coast walled off — illegal under Greek law.

Tsipras said anyone in the process of building unlicensed constructions would be compelled to demolish them.

The disaster has had political repercussions. The head of the civil protection department resigned on Monday, a day after the government replaced the chiefs of the police and the fire brigade.

The civil protection minister resigned on Friday after saying he believed there had been few flaws with the way emergency services tackled the blaze, fueled by winds blowing at 120 km (70 miles) an hour.

Tsipras’s administration has rejected opposition claims that authorities were napping on the job, saying unlicensed building had thrived under previous governments.

“I would have expected at least the tiniest bit of self-criticism from those who, along with their families, ran the country for more than four decades – not two, three or five years,” said Tsipras, a leftist politician elected in 2015.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the main opposition New Democracy Party, is son of Constantine Mitsotakis, a former prime minister. Fofi Gennimata, head of the small Socialist party which was also dominant for years, is the daughter of a key figure in that party.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

How do you sleep? After fire kills scores, Greece sees political recriminations

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Balta

By Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused the opposition on Tuesday of exploiting one of the country’s worst ever natural disasters for saying ministers should resign over the deaths of at least 91 people in a fire.

Greece has been stunned by the blaze which swiftly gutted the town of Mati east of Athens on July 23. Scores more people were injured and the death toll could still rise. There have since been recriminations over whether an evacuation order was issued and whether rescue services responded in a timely manner.

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Bal

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

“I really wonder how some people … can sleep today, and continue content in exercising their duties,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the Conservative New Democracy party, told a news conference.

“When someone undertakes political responsibility it should be accompanied by an act, and resignation is an act of personal responsibility,” said Mitsotakis, whose party is leading in opinion polls.

Though Mitsotakis did not name the prime minister, the comments appeared to be aimed at Tsipras, who has said he accepted full political responsibility for the disaster.

The prime minister’s office accused Mitsotakis of trying to “take advantage of dozens of citizens’ pain and loss”.

“Human lives cannot become an object of political exploitation,” Tsipras’s office said in a statement. “Citizens will judge those who judge.”

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at the flames as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at the flames as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Mitsotakis said those responsible for coordinating the fire response, including the civil protection and interior ministers and the fire brigade chief, should resign.

He also appeared to criticize Tsipras for failing to visit the scene of the disaster sooner. Tsipras traveled to the site on Monday a week after the blaze. Another government minister who visited earlier had a heated exchange with survivors on whether aid was sent in a timely manner.

“Anger, and sympathizing with another’s pain is something deeply personal,” Mitsotakis said. “But public figures have no right to hide during a crisis. (A leader) has an obligation to take a position, and be next to people in trying times.”

Tsipras has vowed to hold a thorough inquiry into how hundreds of people were left trapped by flames. He has pledged a series of changes, including a crackdown on unlicensed construction which is thought to have worsened the fire and blocked off escape routes for residents fleeing toward the sea.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Greek PM visits wildfire-stricken town after criticism

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks with a firefighter officer as he visits the village of Mati, following a wildfire near Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. Greek Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Costas Pitas and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met survivors of a wildfire that killed at least 91 people during his first visit to the town of Mati on Monday, after facing criticism for the government’s response to the blaze.

Fires began a week ago in the coastal resort, which is 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens, and Tsipras has been attacked by opposition parties for the government’s handling of the disaster, which also left dozens injured.

Tsipras has accepted full political responsibility and pledged a series of changes, including a crackdown on illegal and haphazard construction that is thought to have worsened the blaze.

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

He spent around an hour in the area and met locals, firefighters and police officers, his office said in a statement.

“Today I visited the place of tragedy,” Tsipras tweeted.

“(I have) untold grief but also immense respect for those who fought an uneven battle with the flames,” he said.

A total of 25 people are still missing and 28 bodies have yet to be identified, the fire brigade said on Sunday.

Tsipras’ visit comes a week after the disaster and aides said that he had been busy coordinating the response from Athens. His coalition partner went to Mati on Thursday and was shouted at by survivors.

As rescue crews still hunt for those unaccounted for, residents were trying to salvage what they can from the disaster.

“I can’t believe that it took a lifetime to build this and within 10 minutes nothing was left,” 49-year old Konstantinos Gkikas told Reuters. “It’s unbelievable.”

Out of the nearly 2,600 buildings inspected in fire-stricken areas so far, half are intact, 25 percent need to be demolished and the rest can be repaired, the infrastructure ministry said on Monday.

A Greek citizen filed a lawsuit on Monday against the government, the municipal and regional authorities and anybody else found to be involved in the disaster.

Greeks were expected to gather outside parliament to light candles in memory of those who lost their lives later on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Reuters Television; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

‘Left at God’s mercy’: Greeks seek answers as wildfire toll mounts

Aerial view of the area after a wildfire, in Mati, Greece July 24, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media July 26, 2018. FLYGREECEDRONE/via REUTERS

By Renee Maltezou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Sorrow became tinged with anger in Greece on Thursday as rescuers searched scorched land and the coastline for survivors, three days after a wildfire destroyed a small town outside Athens and killed at least 83 people.

Aerial view of the area after a wildfire, in Mati, Greece July 24, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media July 26, 2018. FLYGREECEDRONE/via REUTERS

Aerial view of the area after a wildfire, in Mati, Greece July 24, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media July 26, 2018. FLYGREECEDRONE/via REUTERS

Desperate relatives appeared on television to plead for information on those missing, while other residents of Mati asked why authorities had been unable to prevent so many of their neighbors from getting trapped by a wall of flame in streets with no exit route.

“This shouldn’t have happened, people perished for no reason,” a tearful woman shouted at Defence Minister Panos Kammenos as he visited the town and nearby fire-ravaged areas. “You left us at God’s mercy!”

With the toll from Greece’s deadliest wildfire in decades expected to rise further, about 300 firemen and volunteers combed the area for dozens still missing.

One woman was looking for her brother, who had been returning from work when the flames took hold. “My father was the last person to talk to him on Monday evening,” Katerina Hamilothori told Skai TV. “We have had no news at all.”

The cause of the fire is still unclear, and being investigated by an Athens prosecutor who is also reviewing the way it was handled.

Local officials said high and unpredictable winds would have rendered even the best-executed evacuation plan futile, though firefighters told Reuters that some water hydrants in the area were empty.

One theory being examined is that the blaze was started deliberately in three locations at the same time.

An aerial view shows burnt houses and trees following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. Antonis Nicolopoulos/Eurokinissi via REUTERS

An aerial view shows burnt houses and trees following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. Antonis Nicolopoulos/Eurokinissi via REUTERS

IDENTIFYING THE DEAD

Outside the coroner’s service in Athens, the mood was grim as relatives of victims arrived to submit information and blood samples which could assist identifications.

“This is a difficult process, more difficult than other mass disasters we have dealt with,” said coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias, adding that the bodies of most of the victims were completely charred.

About 500 homes were destroyed, and the fire brigade said there were closed-up homes that had not yet been checked.

The left-led government announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000 euro payment and a job in the public sector for victims’ spouses and near relatives. But for many, that was not enough to ease the pain.

“A drop in the ocean,” read the front page of newspaper Ta Nea.

The fire broke out on Monday at 4:57 p.m. and spread rapidly through Mati, which lies fewer than 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens and was popular with local tourists.

Firefighters described a rapid change in the direction of the wind, which also picked up speed, and some suggested the thick covering of pine trees and a mood of panic was a deadly combination that would have been hard to combat.

“The main factor was the wind, its speed and its direction. It should have been looked at earlier,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Greece director Dimitris Karavellas.

“These people should have been ordered out of this area… This is the only thing that could have saved them.”

(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by John Stonestreet)

Wildfires kill at least 74 near Athens, families embrace as flames close in

A woman reacts as she tries to find her dog, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Wildfires sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 74 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.

The inferno was by far Greece’s worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati, east of Athens, late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

The strong smell of charred buildings and trees lingered in the air in parts of Mati on Tuesday, where white smoke rose from smoldering fires.

Residents wandered the streets, some searching for their burned-out cars, others for their pets. The eerie silence was punctured by fire-fighting helicopters and the chatter of rescue crews.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead people on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach.

“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

Coastguard vessels and other boats rescued almost 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea, the coastguard said.

In total, at least 60 people were killed and the death toll was expected to rise, Evangelos Bournous, mayor of nearby Rafina-Pikermi, said.

It was unclear how many people remained unaccounted for as coastguard vessels combed beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, the government’s spokesman said.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the at least 94 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, and 23 were children, they added.

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“KILLER FIRE”

Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, is a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. Poland said two of its citizens, a mother and her son, were among the victims.

Greece’s fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control.

The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends. Some took to Twitter and Facebook, posting photographs of young children and elderly couples they hoped to locate.

Newspapers printed banner headlines including “Killer Fire” and “Hell”.

Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links.

Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

“Our thoughts go to Greece and the victims of the terrible fires,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in tweets published in French and Greek. Forest fires are also raging in Sweden.

Authorities said they would use an unmanned drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.

A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.

On Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as another wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting trains and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Michele Kambas, George Georgiopoulos and Costas Baltas in Athens and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

After stinging Athens, Turkey’s Erdogan woos crowds in northern Greece

After stinging Athens, Turkey's Erdogan woos crowds in northern Greece

By Lefteris Papadimas

KOMOTINI, Greece (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gave out toy cars and dolls to children on the final leg of a visit to Greece on Friday, a trip meant to boost ties but which has exposed the deep rifts between the two neighbors.

Erdogan visited the Muslim community in Komotini, a town in northern Greece which once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. A day earlier, he riled his Greek hosts by suggesting the 130,000 Muslims in the region were discriminated against by Athens.

“We have made very important decisions to meet the needs of our ethnically Greek citizens, and it is our right to expect similar behavior from Greece,” he told cheering crowds outside a school in the region.

Turkey has frequently found fault with the appointment by Athens of local Muslim clerics – known as Muftis – instead of recognizing those elected by the local population.

Erdogan is the first Turkish president to visit Greece in 65 years, but he has put Athens on the defensive by remarking that a decades-old treaty needs revision. The treaty, among other things, defines the boundaries between the two countries.

None of that controversy was apparent on Friday, as hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside a mosque in Komotini to welcome Erdogan. Aides carried bags stuffed with toys, which Erdogan gave out to children.

Some supporters shouted “Leader” as he made his way through the crowds. Greek police snipers were stationed on nearby buildings and security was tight.

“Erdogan is very popular among the Muslim community in the area. He is an ordinary person close to the people,” said Ahmet Hoca, 57, a farmer.

Closer to Istanbul than to Athens, this community in northern Greece sometimes feels uneasy with the disputes between the two countries, which range from airspace in the Aegean Sea to minority rights.

“When someone asks you whom you love more, your mother or your father, what are you supposed to answer? You love them both,” said resident Hussein Kara, 64.

After World War One and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne pushed modern Turkey’s borders eastwards.

About 1.3 million ethnic Greeks, and 356,000 Turks, moved between Turkey and Greece in a population exchange. The deal excluded Muslim inhabitants of Western Thrace, which includes Komotini, and more than 200,000 Greeks then living in Istanbul.

Fewer than 3,000 ethnic Greeks now live in Istanbul.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Greek police raids find explosives, nine held over links to banned Turkish group

Greek police raids find explosives, nine held over links to banned Turkish group

By George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found bomb-making equipment and detonators in raids in Athens on Tuesday and were questioning nine people over suspected links to a banned militant group in Turkey ahead of an expected visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan next week.

Eight men and a woman thought to hold Turkish citizenship were being detained after morning raids at three different addresses in central Athens.

Earlier, police officials told Reuters the individuals were being quizzed for alleged links to the leftist militant DHKP/C, an outlawed group blamed for a string of attacks and suicide bombings in Turkey since 1990.

The police found materials available commercially and which could potentially be used in making explosives were found, they said in a statement. They also retrieved digital material and travel documents.

Witnesses saw police experts in hazmat suits and holding suitcases entering one address in Athens. Tests on an unknown substance found in jars were expected to be concluded within the day.

Turkey’s Erdogan is widely expected to visit Greece in December, although his visit has not been officially announced. It would be the first visit by a Turkish president in more than 50 years.

Another official told the semi-official Athens News Agency that the case was unconnected to domestic terror groups or militant Islamists, and described those questioned as being of Turkish origin.

DHKP/C, known also as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, is considered a terrorist group by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Hugh Lawson)

Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Monday it would offer emergency compensation worth millions of euros to hundreds of households affected by flash flooding west of Athens that killed at least 20 people on Nov. 15.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were extensively damaged in the coastal towns of Mandra and Nea Peramos when a torrent of mud and water smashed into the settlements, built along dry gullies on the foothills of a mountain range.

Twenty people died and two remain missing from the early-morning deluge, the worst casualty toll from flooding since 1977 when more than 30 people died.

The disaster has prompted recriminations and finger-pointing over a perceived inability of Greek authorities to act on prior warnings that areas with poor infrastructure and unlicensed construction were vulnerable to flooding. Critics also asked why flood prevention projects had been delayed.

Authorities will offer flood victims up to 5,000 euros ($5,896.50) for households and 8,000 euros for businesses, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

It was not immediately clear how much the state had budgeted for compensation. Tzanakopoulos told Reuters the amount would come from the national budget.

That assistance would be over and above compensation residents were entitled to, comprised of 60 percent government aid and 40 percent interest-free loan, he said.

The flash flooding hit many areas of the country, including housing settlements where town planning regulations are often flouted.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Mark Heinrich)