Greek PM takes responsibility for wildfire as criticism mounts

Burnt cars are seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Angeliki Koutantou and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took political responsibility on Friday for a wildfire that killed at least 87 people and led to opposition accusations that the government failed to protect lives.

Tsipras’ opponents went on the offensive on Friday as three days of mourning ended, accusing the government of failing to apologize for the disaster.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives for the second day of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives for the second day of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS

Seeking to deflect public anger, Tsipras told ministers he was conflicted over whether the authorities had done everything right in response to the disaster.

“I have called you here today first of all to take full political responsibility for this tragedy in front of my cabinet and the Greek people,” he said.

“I won’t hide that I am overwhelmed by mixed feelings right now … Pain, devastation for the human lives unexpectedly and unfairly lost. But also anguish at whether we acted correctly in everything we did.”

Tsipras’ contrition comes after the main opposition New Democracy party criticized a government news conference on Thursday night where not one word of apology was heard.

“This government has just added unbridled cheek to its abject failure in protecting lives and people’s property,” said New Democracy spokeswoman Maria Spyraki.

Civil Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told the news conference that the government suspected arson was behind Monday night’s blaze, which trapped dozens of people in their cars trying to escape a wall of flames.

Survivors of one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory, which hit the town of Mati, some 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens on Monday, heckled Tsipras’ coalition partner, saying they had been left to fend for themselves.

Pressure is growing on the government, which is trailing New Democracy in opinion polls, at a time when it had hoped to finally extricate Greece from years of bailouts prompted by its debit crisis and reap the political benefits.

Tsipras now faces questions over how so many got trapped in the fire as the death toll could rise still further.

Tsipras had not been seen in public since Tuesday when he declared the three days of national mourning for the dead.

Politicians’ criticism reflected anger among the survivors. “They left us alone to burn like mice,” Chryssa, one of the survivors in Mati, told Skai television. “No one came here to apologize, to submit his resignation, no one.”

Toskas said he had offered his resignation but Tsipras rejected it.

Fofi Gennimata, who leads the socialist PASOK party, said the government carried a huge political responsibility.

“Why didn’t they protect the people by implementing on time the available plan for an organized and coordinated evacuation in the areas that were threatened?” she said.

“NO MORE TRAGEDIES”

The government has announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000 euro ($11,600) payment for families of the victims. Their spouses and near relatives were also offered public sector jobs.

But many felt that was not enough to ease the pain and had wanted authorities to assume responsibility for the scale of the devastation.

About 300 firefighters and volunteers were still combing the area on Friday for those still missing. More than 500 homes were destroyed by the blaze.

Haphazard and unlicensed building, a feature of many areas across Greece, was also blamed. Many routes to the beach were walled off.

Tsipras promised a national plan to tackle decades of unauthorized construction and to reform and upgrade the Civil Protection Service “to guarantee … that there will be no more tragedies”.

Mortuary staff in Athens, shocked at the sight of burnt bodies including children, were expected to conclude post-mortems on Friday after relatives of victims provided information and blood samples which could assist identifications.

The fire broke out on Monday at 4:57 p.m. and spread rapidly through Mati https://tmsnrt.rs/2K6N3Qc, which is 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 were a deadly combination that would have been hard to combat.

(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas; writing by Angeliki Koutantou and Costas Pitas; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

No apology, no resignation: pressure grows on Greek government over fire deaths

Aristides Katsaros' burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Angeliki Koutantou

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Greece’s opposition accused the government on Friday of arrogance and an utter failure to protect lives in responding to a devastating wildfire as questions remained unanswered over how at least 86 people died in the town of Mati.

Survivors of one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory already heckled a government minister when he visited the scene less than 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens on Thursday.

But on Friday an official three days of mourning declared by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ended, and his opponents immediately went on the offensive.

The main opposition New Democracy party criticized a government news conference on Thursday night where not one word of apology was heard. “This government has just added unbridled cheek to its abject failure in protecting lives and people’s property,” said New Democracy spokeswoman Maria Spyraki.

Civil Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told the news conference that the government suspected arson was behind Monday night’s blaze, which trapped dozens of people in their cars trying to escape a wall of flames.

The left-led government defended itself, saying there had been no time to evacuate people because the blaze spread very quickly.

But pressure is growing on the government, which is trailing New Democracy in opinion polls, as the death toll was expected to rise further and the questions on how people got trapped piled up.

Tsipras has not been seen in public since Tuesday when he declared the three days of national mourning for the dead. A cabinet meeting was scheduled for 1400 GMT on Friday.

Politicians’ criticism reflected anger among the survivors. “They left us alone to burn like mice,” Chryssa, one of the survivors in Mati, told Skai television. “No one came here to apologize, to submit his resignation, no one.”

Toskas said he had offered his resignation but Tsipras rejected it. “A day after the tragedy, mainly to have my conscience clear and not because of mistakes, I offered my resignation to the prime minister, who told me it’s a time to fight,” Toskas told reporters on Thursday.

Fofi Gennimata, who leads the socialist PASOK party, said the government carried a huge political responsibility.

“Why didn’t they protect the people by implementing on time the available plan for an organized and coordinated evacuation in the areas that were threatened?” she said. “They have confessed they let people burn helplessly.”

ONE-OFF PAYMENTS

The government has announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000 euro ($11,600) payment for families of the victims. Their spouses and near relatives were also offered public sector jobs. But many felt that was not enough to ease the pain and wanted authorities to assume responsibility for the scale of the devastation.

About 300 firefighters and volunteers were still combing the area on Friday for dozens still missing. More than 500 homes were destroyed, and the fire brigade said some closed-up homes had not yet been checked.

Haphazard and unlicensed building, a feature of many areas across Greece, was also blamed. Many routes to the beach were walled off.

Mortuary staff in Athens, shocked at the sight of burnt bodies including children, were expected to conclude post-mortems later on Friday after relatives of victims provided information and blood samples which could assist identifications.

The fire broke out on Monday at 4:57 p.m. and spread rapidly through Mati, which is 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 were a deadly combination that would have been hard to combat.

(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by David Stamp)

‘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)

Greek inferno kills at least 80, many missing

An electricity pole stands among burnt trees following a wildfire in Neos Voutzas, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – The death toll from a fire which ripped through a Greek coastal town stood at 80 on Wednesday, with dozens of people unaccounted for as forensic experts tried to identify victims who were burned alive.

With most of the corpses badly charred, identification of the dead will be challenging, experts said, meaning no fast closure in sight for suffering relatives.

Hundreds of people were trapped in the eastern resort of Mati on Monday night as flames whipped around them. Many jumped into the sea to survive, but others died from suffocation either in their cars or trapped on the edge of steep cliffs.

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens.
REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The Greek fire brigade said the death of a survivor in hospital had brought the toll up to 80. The service was also receiving dozens of calls reporting missing persons, but it was unclear if some of them were among those found dead, a spokesperson said.

With many burned beyond recognition, Greek coroners began the grim task of trying to identify the victims of the wildfires near Athens, having to rely on DNA or dental records as angst over missing persons mounted among relatives.

“Work has started on identifying the victims of the wildfires but the majority of the bodies are totally charred,” Grigoris Leon, head of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine, told Reuters.

The post-mortems and identification procedures are taking place at a morgue at Shisto, west of Athens. Leon said this will involve teamwork by coroners, forensic dentistry experts from the Athens University’s Dental School, and the Greek police’s forensic service.

Post-mortems to determine the cause of death are mandatory by Greek law and the last stage after the conclusion of identification procedures.

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Rescue teams combed through the area and the sea on Wednesday, trying to locate anything which could offer clarity on the missing, who are thought to number about 40.

“It was a really terrible situation here,” said Finnish tourist Jaakob Makinen. “We had to run away from the hotel, we ran through the beach, along the beach and then we were caught by fire, so kind of surrounded, we had to go into the water,” he told Reuters Television.

He and others spent several hours in the water.

It was unclear what caused the fire, which spread rapidly through Mati, a maze of narrow streets and dense forest. But some suggested that the sheer force of winds, thick pine, fire and panic was a deadly combination making even the most well-executed evacuation plan futile.

“You can’t leave. My house was up in flames in two minutes,” Elias Psinakis, the Mayor of Marathon, told Greece’s SKAI TV. “With eight Beaufort (wind) and pine you don’t even have time.”

“Armageddon,” wrote the daily newspaper Ethnos on its front page, a reference to the Biblical location prophesizing the end of times. It carried a photo of a burned Greek flag hanging among the branches of a charred tree.

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Fires are common in Greece in the summer months. However, one outspoken cleric had at least one theory of what caused it.

In a vitriolic post, Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta said it was the wrath of God because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is a stated atheist. It drew a sharp response from the Church, which distanced itself from the Bishop’s remarks.

Tsipras declared three days of national mourning.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triantafyllou, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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)

Turkey is an aggressive neighbor, Greek PM tells Europeans in Davos

Greece's Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras gestures as he speaks during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 24, 2018.

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday his European partners couldn’t always appreciate the challenges of living with an ‘aggressive’ neighbor such as Turkey, remarks reflecting the strained ties between the two NATO partners.

Tsipras was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in a discussion about stabilizing the Mediterranean and addressing the migration crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants crossed from Turkey into Greece and further into the European Union at the height of the migration crisis in 2015. It coincided with Greece negotiating its third financial bailout from international creditors to stave off bankruptcy.

Tsipras, who came to power in early 2015, said he took the helm at a very difficult time for Greece which didn’t only have to grapple with its worst debt crisis and the refugee crisis, but also an “aggressive neighbor, sometimes unpredictable with an aggressive military activity in the Aegean,” Tsipras said.

NATO partners Greece and Turkey have a long history of differences that have outlived the Cold War, ranging from jousting over airspace in the Aegean Sea to minority rights and the ethnically split island of Cyprus.

The two now cooperate in a deal brokered between Ankara and the European Union in March 2016 aimed at slowing migrant flows. Tsipras described the deal, which has been criticized by human rights groups, as ‘a difficult but necessary agreement’.

Tsipras said that implementing the agreement, making sure that international laws were not being violated as Greece has been processing thousands of asylum requests, and ensuring that national interests were also safeguarded, was important.

“At the same time we have to take a decision on what we are going to do with this aggressive behavior of Turkey,” he said in response to an observation that Turkey could change its mind on the migration deal at any time.

“For somebody (sic), it is very easy to be also aggressive if they are living in Luxembourg or Netherlands, because their neighbors are Belgium and Luxembourg, and not Turkey. But it’s not so easy for us.”

(Reporting By Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou, Writing by Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean)

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)

Greeks march to mark 1973 student revolt against junta, clashes break out

Greeks march to mark 1973 student revolt against junta, clashes break out

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police clashed with hooded youths in Athens on Friday after thousands marched to mark a bloody 1973 student uprising that helped topple the military junta which then ruled the country.

More than 10,000 people marched peacefully to the embassy of the United States, which some Greeks accuse of having supported the seven-year military dictatorship. About 5,000 police were deployed in the streets of central Athens.

At the tail-end of the demonstration, hooded youths hurled stones and petrol bombs at police in the Exarchia district in central Athens, often the setting for such clashes. Police used teargas to disperse them.

Earlier on Friday, Greeks laid flowers at the Athens Polytechnic University to honor those killed during the revolt. The junta collapsed less than a year later.

The annual protest often becomes a focal point for protests against government policies and austerity measures mandated by the country’s international lenders in exchange for bailout funds. The crisis that broke out in 2010 has left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.

Protesters held banners reading: “We will live freely” and “No pensioner will be fired!”

After seven years of belt-tightening Greeks hope that they will emerge from lenders’ supervision in August 2018, when the country’s third international bailout expires. Many of them accuse a political elite of driving the country to bankruptcy.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Catherine Evans)