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Saturday, August 8, 1998 Published at 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK

World: Europe

Greek fires partly under control

Planes from Greece and abroad poured water on the blaze

Firefighters in Greece say forest fires that have been raging around the capital, Athens, for the past week have been brought under control.

There were fears earlier that rekindled fires on Mount Pendelikon, north of Athens, might reach the capital's suburbs, and a state of emergency was declared in Greater Athens.

[ image: Residents joined the firefighting efforts In Northern Athens]
Residents joined the firefighting efforts In Northern Athens
But firefighters, joined by specialists from five European countries - Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Russia - eventually managed to control the fires.

However, as the fires died down around Athens, massive blazes broke out in several parts of the Peloponnese and on the resort islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia.

The districts of Elide, Messenia and Arcadia were placed under a state of emergency.

The firefighting effort is being hampered by a heatwave and strong winds sweeping the country.

Our correspondent in Athens says the blazes are being described as the worst ecological disaster in Greece in more than 100 years.

Government criticised

Both the opposition and the press have criticised the authorities for their inability to stop the fires, but a government spokesman told the BBC the press was exaggerating the situation, although he acknowledged that available resources were being stretched.

"They say that there is a problem of co-ordination, that the government was not prepared. But it is not so. All the work that had to be done has been done," he said.

The government also says that these are "not just the usual fires of a Meditteranean summer", but the work of arsonists, who are paid by property developers.

Greek officials say soldiers now patrolling pine forests will remain on alert until the state of emergency is lifted in Athens and on the Peloponnese.

Many have begun to worry about the effects the fires will have on tourism - Greece's biggest foreign currency earner.

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