EU sends help to Turkey to contain wildfire

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Marmaris (Turkey) (AFP)

The European Union sent help to Turkey on Monday and volunteers joined firefighters in battling a week of violent blazes that have killed eight people and put pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The wildfires tearing through the resort regions of Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts have destroyed huge swathes of pristine forest and forced the evacuation of panicked tourists from their hotels.

But they have also exposed Erdogan — facing an election in two years that could extend his rule into a third decade — to a new round of criticism over his seemingly sluggish and out-of-touch response.

The Turkish leader came under especially strong criticism over the weekend for tossing bags of tea to locals while touring one of the most badly-affected regions under heavy police escort.

The government has also disclosed that it had no firefighting planes in its inventory and had to rely on foreign help to battle the flames.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked Brussels on Monday for sending a plane from Croatia and two from Spain.

The European Union said it “stands in full solidarity with Turkey at this very difficult time” — a message designed to show goodwill after more than a year of heated disputes.

Firefighters on Monday also battled local blazes on the Greek island of Rhodes in the Aegean as well as parts of Italy and Spain.

Fanned by soaring temperatures and strong winds — with experts saying that climate change increases both the frequency and intensity of such blazes — EU data show this year’s fire season has been significantly more destructive than most.

Erdogan’s office at first blamed the worst fires in Turkey in at least a decade on arsonists that pro-government media linked to outlawed Kurdish militants waging a deadly insurgency against the state.

But that theory appeared to vanish as the number of fires grew, the toll mounted and the days wore on.

Turkey’s forestry directorate said 105 fires had been recorded in 35 towns and cities across the country since Wednesday.

It said seven — most of them not far from the southern resort cities of Antalya and Marmaris — continued to burn on Monday.—AFP

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