Greek PM abandons plans to create Civil Protection ministry after wildfires


By Euronews with AFP


Greece's government has abandoned plans to create a new ministry to help tackle natural disasters after the appointed minister refused the role.


Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had unveiled a new Civil Protection portfolio on Tuesday weeks after raging wildfires devastated the country.


The newly-established ministry was to be helmed by Evangelos Apostolakis, a retired admiral who previously served as minister of defence.


But just two hours after his appointment, Apostolakis told Greek media he would not be accepting the position, adding that he was "not avoiding responsibility".


Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou had stressed that "the fire service will be integrated into this ministry" and condemned Apostolakis' refusal.


The retired admiral had been defence minister under the former left-wing Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras.


The Greek government has accused the opposition Syriza party of deliberately blocking the appointment and has reversed its decision to create a civil protection ministry.


"It is lamentable that the opposition has targeted in such a vulgar way a personality who could have symbolised the national consensus," Oikonomou said in a statement.


More than 100,800 hectares of land, as well as houses and businesses, were destroyed by the wildfires in just under three weeks across Greece over the summer.


Thousands of Greek firefighters, assisted by colleagues and equipment sent from other European Union member states, battled more than 580 blazes. The largest fire broke out on the island of Evia, leading to apocalyptic scenes as residents and tourists were forced to evacuate rapidly advancing flames by boat.


The blazes were fuelled by scorching temperatures as the country suffered through its worst heatwave in 30 years.


The government was criticised for its handling of the wildfires — which Mitsotakis has described as the "worst ecological disaster" in decades — as local authorities deplored "insufficient" means to tackle the blazes.