Portugal interior minister resigns after wildfires kill over 100 people

Portuguese Minister of Interior Constança Urbano de Sousa (Cristina Quicler/AFP)
Portuguese Minister of Interior Constança Urbano de Sousa (Cristina Quicler/AFP)

Lisbon – Portugal's Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa resigned on Wednesday as criticism mounts over the government's handling of a series of deadly forest fires that killed more than 100 people in four months.

Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa accepted her resignation, his office said.

On Sunday, a series of deadly wildfires broke out in the centre and north of the country which killed 41 people and injured another 71, the civil protection agency said.

READ: Rain, winds help tame wildfires in Spain, Portugal

Similar huge blazes in June killed 64 people and injured 250 near the central Pedrogao Grande region, in what were the deadliest wildfires in the country's history.

As the toll mounted on Monday, a small right-wing party had called for the minister to step down. Costa initially resisted the demand, but by Wednesday appeared to have backed down.

After the tragedy in June, the government came under mounting criticism for failing to develop a coherent strategy to fight forest fires, which has further sharpened over its inability to prevent another devastating disaster this weekend.

'We need answers!'

On Tuesday evening, hundreds gathered in Lisbon under the pouring rain to demonstrate their anger over the government's failings, shouting "Shame!" and "Resign!" in a protest organised through Facebook.

"A hundred people are dead and nobody is taking responsibility... We need answers!" one demonstrator said on national television.

On Monday, Costa reaffirmed his pledge to prevent new tragedies by carrying out "fundamental reforms" in forest management and firefighting.

ALSO READ: Wildfires trap 2 000 villagers in Portugal

But a day later, conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on the socialist government to "bear all the consequences of this tragedy".

The CDS-PP, which had called for the minister's resignation, has tabled a motion of no confidence in the government over its failure to prevent the fires, but it looks set to be easily overcome by the Socialist majority.

No date has been set for the vote.

"The Assembly needs to clarify whether or not it wishes to keep the government in place," he said, noting that if the motion failed, the government would have a more solid base from which to carry out the necessary reforms.

Portugal on Tuesday began three days of national mourning for the victims.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

News24 (@News24) | Twitter

The latest Tweets from News24 (@News24). News24 is Southern Africa and Africa's premier online news resource reaching over 2.3 million local users each month. South Africa

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Is social media doing more harm than good?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, our children are exposed and we can't protect them
49% - 4978 votes
Yes, but social media is part of the new reality
45% - 4589 votes
No, it's great for growing a child's world view
5% - 522 votes
Vote
USD/ZAR
14.05
-0.1%
GBP/ZAR
19.84
+0.8%
EUR/ZAR
17.05
-0.3%
AUD/ZAR
11.01
-0.4%
JPY/ZAR
0.13
-0.3%
Gold
1,836.17
+0.3%
Silver
27.31
-0.5%
Palladium
2,958.47
+1.0%
Platinum
1,250.27
-0.5%
Brent Crude
68.28
+0.3%
Top 40
62,389
-0.3%
All Share
68,377
-0.2%
Resource 10
72,112
+0.9%
Industrial 25
85,665
-1.4%
Financial 15
12,740
+0.2%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo