PM heralds crackdown on illegal building but no blame for fires

PM heralds crackdown on illegal building but no blame for fires

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Tuesday reiterated the resolve of his government to knock down 3,200 illegally constructed buildings as part of a delayed response to deadly wildfires that killed 91 people last month in a tragedy the authorities have partially blamed on rampant illegal construction in the areas in question.

In a televised speech following talks with ministers and regional officials in the port of Lavrio, down the coast from Mati, the area worst hit by the blazes, Tsipras announced 20 measures aimed at curbing illegal construction on forestland and coastlines.

Demolition would begin on 3,200 structures for which final judicial decisions have been issued, he said, heralding the recruitment of 250 regional authority officials to boost the crackdown and the creation of an electronic platform to record illegal buildings.

A slow-moving process to draft forest maps will be completed by the end of 2019 and a map of the Greek coastline will be complete by the end of this year, he added.

Tsipras’s comments followed a spate of firings aimed at appeasing a public outcry over the state’s slow response to the fire – after the alternate minister for citizens’ protection and the heads of the police force and fire service were replaced, as was the general secretary for civil protection.

But Tsipras and high-ranking ministers have avoided explicitly acknowledging that mistakes were made in the firefighting operation on July 23.

Tsipras again avoided commenting on shortfalls Tuesday and instead hit out at the political opposition.

“Just as I, from the very beginning, assumed responsibility beyond that corresponding [to my role], so I would have expected at least a small bit of self-criticism from those who, along with their families, ran the country for more than four decades – not two, three or five years,” he said.

Tsipras’s comments Tuesday were dismissed by the political opposition as a public relations stunt and an ongoing attempt to distract the Greek public from the fact that blame has yet to be apportioned for last month’s tragedy.

“A wretched prime minister, who refuses to assume responsibility for the criminal lack of preparation, the nonexistent coordination and the tragic management of the crisis at Mati, today announced the demolition of illegal structures which should have been done three years ago,” said conservative New Democracy spokeswoman Maria Spyraki.

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