Europe

Putin sacks Russian forestry chief over fires

Russian soldier fights fires in village of Kartanosovo in Ryazan region
Image caption States of emergency are gradually being lifted as the fires are brought under control

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sacked the head of the forestry agency for failing to deal adequately with the recent wildfires.

The fires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of countryside, and shrouded Moscow in dense smog.

Mr Putin replaced Alexei Savinov with his deputy, Viktor Maslyakov.

However, some Russian critics say Mr Putin should share the blame, having pushed through a law decentralising the protection of Russia's forests.

Russia's forests cover 809 million hectares (two billion acres) - twice the size of the European Union landmass.

Critics say the law rushed through the Russian parliament in 2006 on Mr Putin's orders deprived the forestry agency of important powers to oversee them.

More than 50 people died in the fires triggered by the most severe heat wave ever recorded in Russia.

During the recent crisis Mr Savinov had faced criticism that he kept a low profile and had failed to make efficient use of government funds allocated for fire prevention.

On Friday President Dmitry Medvedev lifted a state of emergency in the regions around Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Mordovia.

Heavy rain has brought respite to the capital with temperatures falling from 32C (89.6F) to 9C (48F) in two days.

However, the fires have badly hit Russia grain crops and Moscow's top health official said the acrid smoke doubled the city's normal death rate.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said the cost of extinguishing the fires and replacing houses destroyed by the flames had reached 12bn roubles ($394m; £253m).

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