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Deadly fires in Portugal lead to the resignation of a minister

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Francisco Leong – | A firefighter tries to extinguish the flames of a forest fire in Cabanoes, he last October 16 in the north of Portugal

Worsening in Portugal in the face of the Government’s inability to fight effectively against the forest fires that left more than 100 dead in four months, prompting Wednesday the resignation of the Minister of Interior, responsible for preventing such incidents.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who heads a socialist minority executive endorsed in Parliament by the radical left, accepted the resignation of the Minister Constança Urbano de Sousa. The name of his successor has not yet been announced.

“I no longer have the political and personal conditions necessary for the exercise of my functions,” the minister said in her resignation letter, quoted by local press.

Portugal suffered the most deadly forest fires in its history this year, leaving 64 dead in June near Pedrogao Grande and 41 others – more than 71 injured – since Sunday, according to the latest civil protection report.

On Tuesday night, the president of the Republic, the conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, had asked the government to “take the consequences of this tragedy.”

Cholera was also heard in the streets of Lisbon, where hundreds of people demonstrated to protest the government with shouts of “shame!” and “resignation!”.

– Motion of censure –

On Saturday there are new protests planned in several cities of the country, convened by a group of citizens who mobilized on social networks. Several thousands of people already expressed on Facebook their willingness to participate in the Lisbon and Porto demonstrations in the north.

Costa, who for four months had been reluctant to withdraw the interior minister, ended up yielding to criticism that he was unable to avoid a second catastrophe after June.

“It is a childish attitude to believe that the political consequences go through the resignation of the ministers,” he had said on Monday. And he undertook to “move from words to deeds” by carrying out “deep reforms” in forest management and firefighting.

The conservative small party CDS-PP, which demanded the resignation of the minister since Monday, had just announced its intention to file a motion of censure to the Government, whose date was yet to be fixed.

“If some doubt the capacity of the Government, it is up to Parliament to confirm its support or not,” the head of state reacted, adding to the pressure.

– Late reaction –

Supported by the main opposition formation, the Social Democratic Party (center-right), the motion should be rejected by the majority of lefts made up of the Socialist Party and its allies, the Left Bloc and the Communist Party.

The opposition believes that civil protection, which is responsible for coordinating the fight against fires, was slow to move on the ground the necessary means when the fires were declared.

A commission of independent experts mandated by Parliament also revealed a lack of training of volunteer firefighters and the aging of their communication systems. The minister had preferred in June to emphasize the negligent behaviors of the local population, considering that no device would have been able to fight against so many simultaneous fires.

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