Trash dispute continues to fester

As thousands of tons of trash sat festering on the streets of Athens on Friday, authorities toughened their stance toward protesting municipal garbage collectors who are blockading the capital?s main landfill for a second week.

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos issued an emergency order, to be published in the next Government Gazette, for the trash to be collected immediately as it poses a public health risk and for charges to be leveled against those who have created the situation.

Interior Minister Haris Kastanidis upped the ante too, indicating that the government might employ private firms to tackle the problem. ?We obviously need to defend public health, and this means bringing in private contractors if necessary,? Kastanidis told Flash Radio yesterday. He claimed a private sector solution to garbage collection would cost the state a third of what it currently pays to public garbage collectors.

Meanwhile Athens first instance prosecutor Eleni Raikou ordered an investigation into the garbage problem and appealed to mayors in the broader Attica area to help as much as possible to avert a public health crisis. Raikou ordered the probe following several warnings by health experts including Tzeni Kremastinou, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), who said that some 6,000 tons of trash that have accumulated on the streets of the capital constituted a ?ticking time bomb? for public health.

The situation in Thessaloniki was no better. Municipal garbage collectors have created similar problems by blocking the main landfill there. A local prosecutor ordered police to arrest and take to court those who continue to block the Mavrorachi landfill.

A small group of municipal workers continued their blockade of the landfill yesterday though staff at the accounts department of City Hall reportedly returned to work after two weeks of go-slow action to collect their pay checks — a move described by Mayor Yiannis Boutaris as ?extremely unethical.?

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