Greek PM Tsipras visits scene of wildfire disaster
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Athens, Greece - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday paid his first visit to the area ravaged by the country's worst ever wildfires, as anger mounts over his government's response to the disaster which has claimed scores of lives.
His trip, a week after the fires broke out, was not announced beforehand in what local media said was a bid to avoid protests by residents of the hard-hit seaside communities east of Athens -- Mati and Rafina.
Tsipras visited the area for an hour, his office said, meeting with local authorities, fire brigade and army officials, and volunteers amid fears the death toll could exceed 100.
"We thank you for all you are doing," the PM told rescuers, some of whom have been mobilised for three straight days, recovering charred bodies, maintaining security and working -- amid dwindling hope -- to locate survivors.
"Keep morale high," he told a firefighting officer in footage exclusively aired by state broadcaster ERT. "Let the barbs fall on us, not you."
On his Twitter account, Tsipras said he had "boundless respect" for those who fought "against the odds" in the flames.
But his government has faced mounting criticism as residents battle to resume their lives with the help of the authorities and volunteers.
The death toll rose to 91 on Sunday and another 25 people remain missing, but many may be among 28 victims whose bodies are being examined by forensic pathologists and have not been identified, local authorities said.
- 'Like a thief' -
The main opposition New Democracy conservatives on Monday said Tsipras had toured the area in secret "like a thief".
"Citizens are no longer swayed by PR tricks. They demand to know the truth over why so many human lives were unjustly lost," the party said.
The fires struck the coastal communities popular with holidaymakers on July 23, burning with such ferocity that most people fled to the safety of the sea with just the clothes on their backs.
Many then had to wait several hours in the water for help to arrive and it was local fishermen, not the coastguard or navy, who came to their aid.
Government officials have insisted that with winds blowing at a speed of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) an hour, there was little time to mount an effective evacuation.
Tsipras has said he assumes "political responsibility" for the tragedy as a bitter debate rages over who was to blame. His political opponents say this is an empty gesture without his resignation.
The rightwing and centrist opposition accuse the government of bungling its response in an area habitually hit by wildfires, and of trying to hide the scale of the loss of human life as the disaster unfolded.
The government has said there were indications that arson was involved and an investigation has been opened.
Experts have said that a mix of poor urban planning, including a lack of proper access routes and the construction of too many buildings next to combustible forest areas contributed to what were Europe's worst wildfires this century.
A vigil for the victims, titled 'An apology to the dead', will be held outside parliament in Athens later Monday, organised by veteran basketball player Yiannis Gagaloudis.
"(It's) a march with candles, to light the sky and the souls of our fellow human beings," Gagaloudis wrote on Facebook.