Drought-hit Serbian town of Valjevo prays for rain

Mountain fire near town of Zitoradja (22/08/12) Hundreds of wildfires have broken out in recent weeks

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Orthodox worshippers in Serbia have prayed for rain in order to end a weeks-long drought that has ruined crops and caused forest fires.

The prayers were held in the central town of Valjevo in response to a call two days ago from the local bishop.

Weather forecasts suggest the prayers could be answered, with showers predicted in the early hours of Monday.

In south-west Serbia, army troops have been deployed to help contain a wildfire near the town of Cacak.

Russia has also sent two firefighting aircraft to help stem the blazes, which have damaged homes, forests and farmland in the area, about 90km (55 miles) south of the capital Belgrade.

Serbian farmer shows maize harvest damaged by drought near the village of Trstenica on 22 August 2012 Crops have been damaged as temperatures have soared to up to 40C

The authorities are also fighting numerous wildfires elsewhere across Serbia.

In a call issued on Friday, Bishop Milutin of Valjevo - about 50km north-west of Cacak - urged his congregation to repent of their sins and pray for rain.

"Many have asked why the Lord has allowed such a misfortune to descend on the land. Why such a punishment?" he was quoted as saying by the Valjevo diocese.

"Clearly, the cause of such misfortune is human sin and lack of care for the natural order of things."

Serbia has been particularly badly hit by the heatwave across the western Balkans, which has seen temperatures of up to 40C, damaging crops and triggering hundreds of wildfires.

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