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28 Aug, 2007 10:39

Fires rage on in Greece

Thirty-two suspected arsonists have been arrested in Greece, where firefighters are being overwhelmed by the worst forest fires in memory. 63 people are known to have died and the death toll is likely to rise.

Many people were evacuated from their homes, some by helicopters, as their houses were surrounded by the wall of fire.

Furious fires in ancient Olympia raged into the early hours of Monday morning, heading straight for the prized national treasure.

The Olympic stadium, the site of the first-ever Olympic Games, was in danger of being engulfed.  Luckily fire fighters managed to hold back the blaze.

There has been widespread public outcry over the authorities' handling of the crisis.  There were protests in the centre of Athens on Monday, with people criticizing the government for its inadequate and slow response.

Some people say these fires might have been started by property developers who want to clear land, but this does not explain why areas of national heritage such as Olympia are ablaze as any construction there is strictly prohibited by law.

“The scale of the tragedy is huge. People are very angry. Many people have died and others want to react,” commented one of the demonstrators.

Inevitably the tourist industry has been affected as people have been deterred from coming to Greece because of the sheer scale and unpredictability of these fires.

With so many fires burning simultaneously across the country, authorities suspect many were started deliberately, with video footage alleged to show arsonists in the act.

“The testimony of witnesses and the evidence gathered from the site of the fire are some of the clues from the preliminary investigation. We have closely watched the video and it seems to suggest arson,” said Nikos Diamandis, a Greek Fire Department spokesman.

Now Prime Minister Karamanlis is offering a reward of up to 1 MLN euros for anyone who can shed some light on those involved.