Books on Greece
Update No: 123 - (31/08/07)
National elections are due in mid-September; but these have
been overshadowed by a terrible 'national tragedy,' as Premier Costas Karamanlis
called the calamity.
Forest fires claim 41 lives
In late August Greece was hit by its worst forest fires in decades as a result
of soaring temperatures. They killed 41 people in 24 hours on August 23-24; and
there were fears the toll could rise with villages still cut off by the flames
sweeping parts of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Fires raged for a second day along new fronts with soaring temperatures and high
winds hampering rescue efforts. In some areas firefighting and rescue aircraft
were grounded by the high winds.
Two of the dead were French tourists who were caught hiking on a mountain south
of Sparta. The manager of the Lekas Hotel near Areopolis and two of his
employees also died when they went out in an attempt to look for them.
Eight more people died near the village of Zaharo on the west coast of the
Peloponnese when a flash fire surrounded it. Some victims were burned alive in
the cars while attempting to flee.
A total of 170 fires broke out on August 23-24 alone, while at least 124 fires
were raging across Greece overnight, authorities said. A number of villages have
been cut off by a wall of flames, stretching some 80 km from the Ionian Sea on
the west coast of the Peloponnese to Mani on the peninsula's southern tip.
At least 19 firefighting planes and 18 helicopters have been called in to combat
the flames, and Greece has called for urgent help from its European Union
partners after declaring the provinces of Lakonia and Messinia in a state of
A combination of soaring temperatures, hot winds, drought and perhaps arson, has
caused the upsurge in forest fires after tens of thousands of acres of land were
scorched in an even more intense heatwave in July.
Politicians interrupted campaign schedules for national elections in
mid-September and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis went to the area, saying
"these are very difficult times for all of us".
His conservative government has been widely criticised for its slow reaction in
dealing with a spate of forest fires during the summer and its popularity has
fallen as a result. "The primary task now is to put out the fires and
repair the damage," Karamanlis said after meeting fire officials near the
Authorities have started sifting through burnt-out homes in the area in the
search for survivors, while 500 soldiers were sent to the area to help.
"It's a tragedy," an eyewitness said. "I can see the burnt bodies
of a mother holding her child in her arms. Further away there are more bodies.
[Summer heat and high winds helped to rekindle fires across other parts of
southern Europe. In Italy, where blazes are spreading across many southern
areas, an 83-year-old man died near the southern city of Potenza on August 24.
Police said he was probably trying to put out a fire.
Italy's Civil Protection Authority said August 23 had been the worst day for
forest fires in Italian history. Nine people died from fires in Italy during
August, including three at a guest house in Sicily on August 22.
In southeastern Bosnia, where the temperature hit 42 degrees Centigrade in late
August, firefighters and villagers were battling several forest fires fanned by
Polls show slender lead for governing conservatives
The first opinion polls published after Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called
an early general election showed the governing conservative party with a small
lead over the socialist opposition. Two polls showed Karamanlis' New Democracy
party leading the main opposition Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, by
1.5 and 1.6 percentage points about three weeks before election day in late
The surveys were conducted for two private television stations, which broadcast
the results late Wednesday. Details were published Thursday.
The prime minister last week called elections for Sept. 16, six months before
his four-year term was due to expire. He said he needed a fresh mandate to
reform the economy, education and the judiciary.
New Democracy's popularity has slipped, attributed to a bond-trading scandal and
widespread anger over the government's slow response to the devastating forest
fires across the country this summer. Earlier this year, the conservatives had
been leading by about 2 points, and by 4 points earlier in their term, according
to previous surveys.
In the survey by Metron Analysis for Antenna television, 31 percent of those
polled said they would vote for New Democracy, compared to 29.5 percent for
PASOK - a difference of 1.5 percentage points.
The poll conducted by the GPO company for Mega television gave the conservatives
36.2 percent compared to the socialist party's 34.6 - a 1.6 percentage point
However, Karamanlis was way ahead of PASOK party leader George Papandreou, his
main rival for the premiership, in terms of personal popularity. GPO found 51.4
percent of respondents had a positive or mainly positive view of the prime
minister, compared to 42.1 percent for his rival.
Both polls also found a strong majority of respondents believe New Democracy
will win the election. GPO showed 58.5 percent believe the conservatives will be
victorious, compared to only 22.2 percent who think PASOK will win.
The figures for Metron Analysis were similar, with 56.8 percent believing in a
conservative win and 15.9 percent in a socialist victory.
GPO's poll was conducted by nationwide telephone interviews of 2,000 people from
Aug. 20-22 and had a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points.
Metron Analysis used the same method on the same days, interviewing 1,056
people. It gave a margin of error of 3 percentage points.