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Greek PM vows for a restart after criticism for natural disasters’ handling

By AFP - Sep 17,2023 - Last updated at Sep 17,2023

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks with journalists prior to a press conference at the Thessaloniki International Fair in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on Sunday (AFP photo)

ATHENS — Faced with criticism for his alleged poor handling of the fires and floods that struck Greece this summer, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged fresh funding and reforms in order to fight the “climate war”.

The promises could reinvigorate the image of his newly elected government that has been tarnished by footage of residents taking refuge on their roofs in desperate need of rescue as rising waters engulfed poorly prepared regions.

“Greece is facing a war in a time of peace,” Mitsotakis said in his Thessaloniki International Fair keynote speech on Saturday.

“Over a two-week period, we experienced the worst wildfire and the worst floods in our history,” he added.

“The climate crisis requires the mobilisation of the whole of society,” he added on Sunday on the sidelines of the fair.

Floods devastated the fertile Thessaly plain in central Greece in early September.

The preceding storm killed 17 people, swallowed cotton crops and fruit trees and killed hundreds of thousands of animals on Greece’s breadbasket.

The country was already grappling with “the biggest fire ever recorded in the EU”, according to a European Commission spokesman, in the northeast region of Evros bordering Turkey.

Twenty-eight people were killed in the blaze, among them two firefighting pilots and 20 migrants in the Evros region.

It followed violent flames that ravaged the tourist islands of Rhodes and Corfu in July, with thousands of evacuations ordered.

 

‘Restart’

 

Mitsotakis also pledged a 10 per cent rebate on property tax for anyone who insures their home against natural disasters, adding he is considering making such insurance compulsory.

The Sunday daily Protothema saw these announcements as “a restart” for the government.

The conservative leader admitted a certain “confusion of responsibilities” between the state services responsible for responding to torrential rains, as well as “the frequent tendency” to shift blame to others.

“In Thessaly and Evros, I have heard the anger of the people,” said the prime minister, whose New Democracy (ND) Party won an absolute majority in the June parliamentary elections.

His government has since been blasted by the opposition and residents affected by the floods for the slowness of emergency services and the lack of preparedness.

Fingers were pointed at failures in cooperation between the army and civil protection in the hours following the disaster.

But the leader dismissed his critics’ arguments.

Anyone who thinks that another country would have handled the storm and its extensive flooding better is “completely wrong”, he said on Sunday.

 

No reshuffle 

 

In just three months in office, the Mitsotakis has seen two of his ministers resign, including one in charge of citizen protection, because he was on holiday on an island in the Aegean Sea while fires raged.

The Greek press has speculated a cabinet reshuffle will follow local elections on October 8.

However, Mitsotakis insisted on Sunday that he had “no intention of reshuffling” the Cabinet.

The Mitsotakis government bears “enormous responsibility” for the destruction caused by the extreme weather, said Effie Achtsioglou, former labour minister and candidate for the presidency of the left-wing Syriza Party.

She condemned the fact that “no serious flood prevention work has been carried out”.

According to a poll for the private television channel Mega, 61 per cent of those questioned have a negative image of the government and 66 per cent believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

 

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