(Fixes typo in paragraph 7)
* No-confidence motion unlikely to succeed
* Underlines public discontent over handling of fires
* Latest fires follow disastrous blaze in June
By Axel Bugge and Andrei Khalip
LISBON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - A Portuguese opposition party
launched a motion of no-confidence in the Socialist government
on Tuesday over its failure to prevent the loss of human lives
in this week's lethal wildfires, the second such disaster in
Hundreds of fires have raged across northern and central
Portugal since Sunday after the driest summer in nearly 90
years, killing at least 41 people and overwhelming fire-fighting
and rescue services.
The fires were dying down on Tuesday under the first real
rain since June, when an even deadlier forest blaze - Portugal's
worst disaster in living memory - killed 64 people.
The no-confidence motion proposed by the small centre-right
CDS-PP party is largely symbolic as the minority Socialist
government is backed in parliament by two left-wing parties.
They have only to abstain for such a vote to fail.
But it comes amid growing public criticism of Socialist
Prime Minister Antonio Costa's government over the perceived
slowness of its response to the disaster. The government has so
far enjoyed strong approval ratings due to an improving economy.
"There has been a grave failure to fulfill the most basic
duty of the state - to protect the lives of the people," CDS-PP
leader Assuncao Cristas told reporters in proposing the
Her criticism was amply echoed in Portuguese media and on
A date for the vote of no-confidence can only be set after
Cristas has formally submitted the motion to parliament.
THREE DAYS OF MOURNING
The government, which says the fires are due to an
extraordinary spell of unusually dry weather, has declared three
days of public mourning starting on Tuesday.
A report on the June fire pointed to failures in response
times by emergency services and poor coordination by
firefighters, in addition to a breakdown of communications
networks used by the civil protection agency.
Costa, who visited the affected areas on Tuesday, said in a
televised address to the nation on Monday that he would not sack
his interior minister, but he promised reforms, adding: "Nothing
will stay the same after this year."
The parliamentary head of the centre-right opposition Social
Democrats, Hugo Soares, said on Tuesday that Costa's statement
was an "insult to the intelligence" of the Portuguese people and
that he had to take political responsibility for the fires.
The latest blazes have brought the total area burned in
Portugal this year to 350,000 hectares, the worst since 2003,
making the country by far the worst hit by fires this year in
the European Union.
In neighbouring Spain, a much larger country which has also
suffered fires in the past few days, only 88,000 hectares have
burnt this year, EU data show.
The fires at the weekend also destroyed one of Portugal's
oldest pine forests, whose trees were used to make the ships
that carried Portuguese explorers around the globe during their
voyages of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.
(Reporting by Axel Bugge and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Gareth
First Published: 2017-10-17 13:44:52
Updated 2017-10-17 18:56:39
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