Greece’s public order minister has resigned as the aftermath of last week’s catastrophic wildfires continues to cause political turmoil.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with Nikos Toskas on Friday to accept his resignation, according to his Twitter announcement:
“The bravery of a general is not measured only at the time of battle, but also at the time review,” Tsipras said. “I warmly thank Niko Toska for the honesty and dedication he has shown in carrying out the duties I have entrusted to him.”
Η γενναιότητα ενός στρατηγού δεν μετριέται μόνο την ώρα της μάχης αλλά και την ώρα του απολογισμού. Ευχαριστώ θερμά τον Νίκο Τόσκα για την εντιμότητα και την αφοσίωση που επέδειξε κατά την εκτέλεση των καθηκόντων που του ανέθεσα.
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) August 3, 2018
Toskas also issued his own statement.
“This natural disaster, and the loss of so many people in Mati, overwhelms my desire to continue,” the retired army general said. “This is something I had stated publicly from the first moment. I have strived all my life to defend this country and its citizens.”
Greek officials such as Toskas have received widespread criticism — both from citizens and from political counterparts — due to authorities’ controversial response to the fast-moving forest fire that ravaged the coastal town of Mati outside of Athens.
The public order minister also faced backlash after a press conference in which he asserted that he did not see any glaring flaws in the government’s emergency response.
Government officials blamed illegal building of homes for allowing the wildfire to cause such extensive damage, but scores of citizens have responded by accusing them of having no disaster response plan.
Some complained about the lack of an official evacuation, as well as about police allegedly permitting traffic detours that sent drivers into deadly fire zones, and an alleged delay in announcing initial deaths.
The July 23 fire fanned by strong winds decimated the resort town 18 miles northeast of Athens, killing dozens of residents and injuring more than 100.
Authorities said a fifth person who had been hospitalized with severe injuries died Friday in the capital, raising the death toll to 88.
According to Greek public broadcaster ERT, the victim was a 35-year-old mother whose 6-month-old baby had died in the blaze, as well as the wife of a firefighter who had helped to stop it.
The Greek Fire Brigade, which has been providing death toll updates updates, said that two victims’ bodies remain unclaimed and unidentified while one person is still missing.
In some cases, search and rescue teams have struggled to identify victims due to the severity of the burns they suffered.
Greek officials said demolition teams will start next week to tear down dozens of illegal structures in the Attica region around Athens.
The project falls in line with the government’s promise to crack down on construction done without permits.
Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis told Greek radio channel 24/7 that 61 structures — mainly fencing — will be removed from beaches, streams and other areas designated for reforestation.
The Attica wildfire disaster was the deadliest in Greek history, coming during another hot, dry summer when such incidents are a constant possibility.
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