Greeks besiege banks for wildfire compensation

By Karolos Grohmann, PYRGOS, Greece, Reuters

Greeks on Thursday started burying relatives killed by wildfires and thousands scrambled to banks to collect compensation for damage caused by blazes still burning parts of the country for a sixth day.

Police arrested 15 people facing charges of fraud for claiming the instant 3,000 euros (US$4,000) payment the government is handing out in the affected areas in a bid to show it is providing fast relief for the fires that have killed 63 people.

Less than three weeks before a parliamentary election, critics who slammed the conservative government’s chaotic reaction to the fires and said its compensation system was open to widespread fraud.

“This shames us as Greeks,” Dionysis Berezos, 67, told Reuters while standing with at least 400 people outside a bank in Pyrgos, a provincial capital in the stricken Peloponnese peninsula. “These people have come from Athens and have nothing to do with the area.”

Some people admitted they had come from as far away as Athens and Thessaloniki, which is some 600 km (370 miles) north.

“Hundreds of gypsies have come here who don’t live here,” said Gerasimos Halilopoulos, a Roma from Pyrgos, told Reuters. “It is making my life difficult because I need the money.”

The system requires filling out a simple form, which will be checked later, to get the money and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said the simplified system was the right thing.

“The order is ‘move fast’, without any delay. We’re removing bureaucratic hurdles. Nothing should stand in the way of us doing our duty,” he told a news briefing.

The government’s handling of the crisis could be crucial for Karamanlis’s hopes for re-election on Sept. 16.