Greece offers 1-mln-euro reward for arsonists

Greek authorities on Sunday offered up to a million euros for help catching arsonists blamed for starting some of the fires that have been devastating the country, threatening historic sites and killing at least 61.

 Greece offers 1-mln-euro reward for arsonists
Greek authorities on Sunday offered up to a million euros for help catching arsonists blamed for starting some of the fires that have been devastating the country, threatening historic sites and killing at least 61.

The death toll climbed on Sunday evening with the discovery of four more bodies in the southwestern Peloponnese, a health ministry official said. Most of the deaths had occurred in the western Peloponnese.

The public order ministry announced rewards of between 100,000 and a million euros (136,000 and 1.36 million dollars) for any information leading to the arrest of those behind the forest fires started "from July 1 to date."

The amount paid would be linked to the number of victims the fire had claimed and how extensive it had been, the ministry statement added.

The latest wave of forest fires has been raging for three days now.

"We are dealing with a national catastrophe without precedent," said firefighters' spokesman Nikolaos Diamantis Sunday, as the national state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis continued.

The disaster already ranks among the world's deadliest forest fires of the past 150 years, and the nation has been observing three days of national mourning since Saturday.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, in a message to the nation on Saturday, had blamed arsonists.

Since Friday, police have arrested 10 people suspected either of starting fires deliberately or simply through negligence, including a 65-year-old man and an elderly woman.

Earlier Sunday, the local police had feared that fires might engulf Olympia, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Houses had burnt in the village of Olympia just next to the site and the Olympia museum and nearby villages had already been evacuated.

But later Sunday the site appeared to be safe.

"The new archaeological museum has been saved and the flames did not enter the site of Ancient Olympia, where all the anti-fire systems functioned," Christos Zahopoulos, secretary general of the culture ministry, told AFP.

Olympia, in the Peloponnese peninsula, has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and in the 10th century BC became a centre for the worship of Zeus.

Another ancient site remained under threat Sunday night, however.

Fire moved toward The Temple of Apollo at Bassae, which dates to the 5th century BC and is also a UNESCO site, in the Arcadian mountains.

Firefighters announced more deaths on the Aegean island of Euboea. They said five people including two volunteer firefighters had died.

All five perished in the central Mystro region near Eretria on the island's southern coast, where another two people were injured. Fresh fires had broken out Sunday afternoon on the centre of the island, burning woodlands and village homes.

Firefighters on Euboea had since Saturday been fighting blazes on the south of the island that had destroyed pine forests and olive groves.

Emergency services had so far evacuated a total of 40 villages on Euboea and the Peloponnese peninsula, said a fire services spokesman earlier Sunday.

Those fleeing the flames had sought refuge on beaches where the authorities provided tents. Financial aid and new lodgings had also been promised.

More than 1,000 Greek firemen backed by 425 soldiers and 16 water-dropping aircraft have been battling the fires which have swept through thousands of hectares (acres), destroying homes and ravaging crops and olive groves.

"It's chaos. Generations of work have gone up in smoke," said Vassilis Viglas, 65, who had returned to the now-devastated village of Artemida for the summer.

But the promised international aid was beginning to arrive.

Six water-bombing Canadair planes, four from France and two from Italy, had arrived Sunday. France also sent 60 of its own firefighters and six firefighting vehicles.

Expected in the next few hours were seven more planes -- four from Serbia, two from Spain and one from Romania -- and 11 helicopters: three each from Germay, Israel and the Netherlands, and the other two from Norway and Slovenia.

Austria also announced its army would be sending a Hercules C-130 military transport plane, two Augusta Bell 212 firefighting helicopters and 20 soldiers.

Greece was also in talks with the United States and Russia about how they might help, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said.

AFP
Last Mod: 27 Ağustos 2007, 00:00
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