July 3, 2007 / 2:21 PM / 12 years ago

Greece vows to replant forests after severe fires

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s government pledged on Tuesday to replant thousands of acres (hectares) of destroyed forests after the country’s worst fires in more than a decade devastated the last vestiges of greenery near the capital.

Greece last week was ravaged by fires that took four days to bring under control. The blazes wiped out more than half of the Mount Parnitha National Park, just outside Athens, and the lush Pelion forests in central Greece.

The fires, the worst to hit Athens since July 1995, destroyed more than 15,000 acres of parklands that were home to thousands of varieties of plants and dozens of wildlife species, including the endangered red deer which is indigenous to the area.

“Not one piece of forestland will be lost,” Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos told reporters after the Greek Prime Minister chaired a crisis meeting on the issue. “The forest will be protected. It will be reborn.”

The government has come under severe criticism from the political opposition and environmental groups for failing to prevent the fires from spreading. Concerns are being raised that developers will build where the forests once were.

The government vowed to implement rigid measures to ensure this would not happen, including taking aerial photographs and publishing them widely so that the public can be informed.

“We will not tolerate past phenomena where we saw villas sprouting in what was once forestland,” Pavlopoulos said.

Still, many Greeks are not convinced lawmakers will carry out the promises and a mass protest rally centered around parliament is planned for Sunday to press the government to make sure destroyed forests are replanted.

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