Fire-ravaged Greek villages won't vote in election

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ARTEMIDA, Greece, Sep 15 (Reuters) The Peloponnese is one area of Greece candidates in Sunday's election are not visiting.

Forest fires killed 65 people in these villages on the southern peninsula last month and the survivors have no interest in voting.

Many are still mourning their dead.

''We have been burnt here, we can't even think of elections,'' said 78-year-old Dimos Vlachos from Makistos village, where his wife was among seven people who died.

''We don't see or feel the elections. We are in limbo here, we are in limbo.'' In the 2004 election 133,000 people voted in the province of Ilia, the hardest hit by the fires. New Democracy, which won a landslide national victory, got 44.7 per cent in Ilia and the opposition socialist PASOK 47.6 per cent.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called Sunday's election apparently certain of a second election victory on the back of successful economic policies.

But the government's widely criticised response to the fires turned voters' thoughts to smaller parties, opening up the prospect of a coalition if no single party wins enough support.

The fires swept through dozens of villages in the western Peloponnese, torching olive groves, vineyards, farms and homes.

Villagers said it mattered little to them who won tomorrow. Their fear was that politicians would forget their pre-election pledges to help the stricken villages.

''If they want to help us after the elections they can. Otherwise they should just leave us alone to die,'' says Vlachos as he putters around the ruins of his blackened home.

His canary still lay dead in its cage.

NO HOPE Walking amid charred family photographs and broken glass, Dimitra Zapati lamented the 30 years it had taken her and her husband to build their home in the Ancient Pissa village near Olympia.

''Elections used to interest me, I was an active supporter,'' she told Reuters Television.

''I have my own problems now. I don't care who will win. Whoever it is, I believe they will all forget us.'' The government handed out immediate compensation of 3,000 euros (4,164 dollars) for each victim but locals say there are still many who are too shocked to lodge their claims.

The government also outlined a reconstruction programme for the regions affected by the fires. Some victims fear a change of government could mean those pledges were ignored.

''I want the same government again because if things change again, with what we have already suffered, it will set us back even further,'' said Asimo Bourouyanopoulou in the village of Artemida, where 14 people died.

After losing her home, chickens and livestock in the fires, she is living with her daughter. She said she had no intention of voting.

''Unfortunately the people are not concerning themselves with elections,'' said Sofianos Sofianopoulos, president of Ancient Pissa village council.

''At other times during elections it was lively, there was excitement and fanaticism. Now there is just grief.'' REUTERS GT BD1724

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