Interior minister resigns in wake of Portugal forest fires | News | DW | 18.10.2017
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Interior minister resigns in wake of Portugal forest fires

Constanca Urbano de Sousa had been lambasted for her response to two deadly blazes on the Iberian Peninsula that killed over 100 people in Portugal alone. The ruling government has also faced calls to step down.

Constanca Urbano de Sousa stepped down from her position as Portugal's interior minister on Wednesday, following heavy criticism of how she handled two forest fires that have killed over 100 people in the past months.

"I considered that I didn't have the political and personal conditions to continue in my post," the minister wrote in her resignation letter to Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Given that the "critical period of this tragedy" had finished and the proposals for a ministerial meeting on October 21 were prepared, she wrote, there was no reason for her to remain in office. She concluded that the move was necessary in order to preserve her personal dignity.

Costa announced that he had accepted de Sousa's resignation. In a short statement on the government website, he thanked the minister for her "dedication and commitment" in her service to the nation.

In recent days, de Sousa had faced demands for her to step down. The minister was responsible for overseeing firefighters, as well as the police and the civil protection agency.

Some politicians also called for Costa's minority socialist government to resign as well.

On Tuesday, while visiting Oliveira do Hospital, one of the areas hit hardest by this week's fires, Portugal's head of state, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, warned that the government urgently needed to "open a new chapter." He expressed hopes that the parliament would "clarify if it would like to maintain its functions or not." 

On Tuesday, the small opposition party CDS-PP launched a motion of no confidence in the Costa government.

Battling deadly blazes

Portugal, along with the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, has been battling deadly forest blazes since Sunday. The fires have been aggravated by sustained hot temperatures and strong winds from the storm Ophelia in the Atlantic.

Read more: Climate change sets the world on fire

So far, 41 people have been killed in Portugal since around 16 blazes broke out over the weekend, with another four casualties in Spain. This past June, a previous forest fire in Portugal killed 64 individuals. Fires have decimated 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) in Portugal since the start of 2017.

Authorities believe the fires were started by arsonists and have launched investigations to determine the cause. Most of the blazes were extinguished as of Tuesday morning, thanks to the work of some 5,000 firefighters and the help of rain.

Portugal is currently observing three days of mourning for the deceased.

Also on Wednesday morning, Spanish Minister of the Interior Juan Ignacio Zoido announced that the country's authorities had arrested a man on suspicion of having caused a forest fire out of negligence in Os Blancos, Galicia, this past Sunday.

According to Spanish news agency Europa Press, 42 forest fires continue to burn in Galicia, only one of which remains out of control. The rest are either controlled or stabilized. 

cmb/msh (EFE, Reuters)

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