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Greek ministers say arson suspected to have caused devastating fires

GREEK ministers say they suspect arson is the cause of the devastating fires that killed at least 83 people in a resort near Athens earlier this week.

Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said on Thursday that there were “serious indications” the fire, which tore through coastal towns and villages, had been started deliberately.

As the search and rescue operation continues to look for survivors and the bodies of those still missing, a sense of anger is growing over government failures.

Ahead of an emergency cabinet meeting yesterday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he took responsibility for the fires.

“The dead cannot talk, but the least we can do in their memory is to show respect for the truth. I want to take full political responsibility for the tragedy before the cabinet,” he said.

Germany’s Die Linke party co-chair Katja Kipping blamed EU austerity measures for the destruction of Greek infrastructure and public services, saying: “The Greek fire service has been cut to pieces by [former German finance minister Wolfgang] Schauble’s austerity diktats, with deadly consequences.”

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos faced angry residents in in the fire-devastated village of Mati as he sought to blame illegal construction for the tragedy. He said it was a “crime” that buildings had blocked escape routes.

“This coast of Athens, all these properties, the majority are without a licence and they have occupied the coast without rules,” Mr Kammenos said.

Residents were advised to stay indoors after a thunderstorm caused floods in the Athens suburbs on Thursday night, just days after the devastating fires.

Services struggled to cope as they received more than 140 calls for help. Cars were submerged by floodwaters, which built up because cuts to municipal services had left drains blocked.

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