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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 173,000 132,834 117,200 27
GNI per capita
 US $ 13,720 11,660 11,430 45
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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 emergency. 

Hot summer
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 front. 

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. It's terrible." 

[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 strong winds]. 

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 August.

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 difference.

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.

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