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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Greeks clamour for state fire aid
Greeks queue at a bank for compensation for forest fires
Thousands are demanding compensation for fire losses
Thousands of Greeks have been queuing at banks to collect government aid handed out in response to the country's worst forest fires for decades.

Some 7,500 people reportedly withdrew 24m euros ($33m; 16m) in aid on Wednesday, the first day of the scheme.

The emergency measure has been criticised as vulnerable to fraud.

Most of the fires have been brought under control but with elections due in two weeks, attacks on the government's handling of the crisis are growing.

Recent opinion polls suggest a slip in the lead the government had enjoyed when it decided to bring the elections forward.

Polls on behalf of a major newspaper - Kathimerini - and by the broadcaster Sky suggest Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' New Democracy party is roughly level with the opposition Socialists.

According to the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens, New Democracy could lose younger voters to smaller, radical parties on the left.

Fraud fears

On Wednesday night, some 8,000 people filled a square in front of the parliament building in the capital, Athens, to protest at the response to the fires.

Satellite images show how the spread of the fires has changed

A political blog popular among young Greeks criticised the government's portrayal of the crisis as the product of a terror-style arson campaign.

"Greece is under attack from organised incompetence," the G700 blog said.

The fires have destroyed more than 500 homes, killed 63 people and left thousands homeless.

Banks in Greece have been dealing with large queues of people demanding compensation for property lost in the fires.

The government announced this week that it would remove the bureaucratic hurdles to claiming aid.

Greeks now only require identity documents and a declaration stating they lost property in the fires to withdraw money.

A government spokesman told the Reuters news agency the claims would be checked "later" - but critics say the scheme is open to fraud.

"Who are all these people? I don't recognise a single one of them and I have lived here all my life," Ourania Fotopoulou told Reuters outside a bank in the town of Pyrgos in the fire-hit Peloponnese region.

Arson suspected

Firefighters are tackling the last of the big blazes in the western Peloponnese and on the island of Evia, north of Athens.

I spent Saturday night on the roof of my house watching a fire steadily progressing down the mountain towards us
Patience
BBC News website reader in Kalamata

Though most of the fires have been extinguished, there are fears that a fresh heatwave could reignite blazes.

There have been 120 major forest fires this year, compared with just 52 in 2006.

Officials say some 190,000 hectares (469,000 acres) of forest land have been destroyed in the fires - an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island.

The area is 10 times the annual average destroyed in fires over the last 50 years, European officials say.

Prime Minister Karamanlis has pledged to act fast in restoring power to devastated villages and rebuilding houses.

The authorities believe some of the fires were started deliberately, and more than 30 people have been arrested so far.

A 1m euro (680,000) reward has been offered to help catch those responsible.




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