A man walks next to a burnt forest in Vilia area some 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Athens, Greece, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Greece's fire department scrambled firefighting aircraft and ground forces as at least two new blazes broke out in areas already scarred by wildfires this summer, with strong winds complicating efforts to contain them. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

After massive fires, Greece struggles to shake up security

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s center-right government replaced top officials in charge of public security in the wake of massive wildfires, but suffered an embarrassing political setback Tuesday when a newly named minister withdrew before hours before he was due to be sworn in.

Retired admiral Evangelos Apostolakis was named head of a newly created Civil Protection Ministry that would head firefighting. But the 64-year-old, who had served as head of the Greek armed forces and minister of defense under a previous government, withdrew following opposition party criticism.

The position was left vacant, and firefighting coordination was returned to the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection, a government announcement said.

Fueled by heatwaves, fires destroyed more than 1,000 square kilometers (385 sq miles) in southern Greece, while huge blazes also hit nearby Italy and Turkey. The wildfires and an August spike in COVID-19 infections have caused public discontent, according to recent opinion polls. But they also suggest that conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has maintained a strong lead over his main rival, the left-wing Syriza party. Also announced Tuesday, Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrisohoidis, who had previously led the firefighting effort, was replaced by Panagiotis Theodorikakos. Vasilis Kikilias will move from the ministry of health to tourism, and be replaced by Athanasios Plevris. The new ministers are due to be sworn in later Tuesday.