ATHENS – Pounding away relentlessly, Greece’ major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis again assailed Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras for taking only “political responsibility” for the July 23 wildfires that killed 92 people, but not any blame.
“Instead of bowing their heads … all they cared about was raising their finger, blaming others – those who own illegal buildings, citizens, even the dead,” he said in an interview with Athens Voice magazine.
“They wanted to say, ‘We are not to blame for anything,’ because all these are problems of the last 40 years,” referring to Tsipras blaming the past administrations of New Democracy and the former PASOK Socialists, who took turns ruling the country for four decades and allowed the kind of unlawful construction blamed for so many of the deaths in the seaside village of Mati.
Streets in that town abutting the sea were in many cases a death trap dead end preventing people from fleeing to the safety of the waters. Unlawful construction, much of it on land burned for development even at the cost of killing scores of people, has been allowed by every government because people could then be fined to bring in money for state coffers.
Tsipras’ coalition government has been blamed by others for not having evacuation or rescue plans in plans and a chaotic, confused response to the inferno that swept down from Mt. Penteli through Neos Voutzas and Mati.
He sacked the fire and police chiefs and Citizens Protection Minister Nikos Toskas and the civil protection chief quit but Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who didn’t send the Navy to help people treading water in the seas for hours waiting to be rescued, who blamed the residents of Mati for the unlawful construction and who said the government was blameless, is still in his position, Tsipras needing the tiny party’s votes to stay in power.
There has been criticism as well that unqualified and incompetent political hacks were put in management positions and didn’t know what to do when the disaster struck and that official hid instead of trying to help coordinate the response.
It’s common for all governments – including New Democracy previously – to appoint ministers and officials with no experience and no background in their fields as a reward for party loyalty.
Mitsotakis said the head of Civil Protection would need to have proven experience, technocratic knowledge and be able to take responsibility and difficult decisions in a moment of crisis.
He again seized the opportunity of the disaster to push for early elections, which must be held by October, 2019 and said the date should be announced on Aug. 20, when three international bailouts of 326 billion euros.