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Turkey arrests building contractors as earthquake death toll mounts

Handout picture released by El Salvador’s presidency press office showing an aerial view of members of El Salvador’s Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) during rescue operations in Sehit Aileleri, Kahramanmaraş, Turkey on February 12, 2023. A rescue team composed of specialists from El Salvador and Turkey managed to rescue a woman and a child, with signs of hypothermia, who had been buried for six days after the earthquake that affected Syria and Turkey, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said in a statement.<br />(Photo by Handout / various sources / AFP)

Turkish authorities have issued more than 100 arrest warrants over collapsed buildings, amid warnings that the death toll from the earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria could double from the current tally of 28,000.

It has been reported that at least 12 people were in custody, including contractors, architects and engineers connected to some of the tens of thousands of buildings destroyed in last Monday’s 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude quakes.

“The situation in stricken north-west Syria, already ravaged by more than a decade of civil war and where international aid has been slow to arrive, is becoming increasingly desperate,” the United Nations said.

As public anger continued to mount in Turkey at the scale of the destruction and the pace of rescue efforts, the arrests are likely to be seen as an attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who faces tough elections in May, to deflect blame.

Turkey’s vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said yesterday that authorities had, so far, identified 131 people suspected of being responsible for the collapse of some of the flattened buildings, and that detention orders had been issued for 113 of them.

Oktay said: “We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and caused deaths and injuries.”

The environment minister, Murat Kurum, said based on an initial assessment of more than 170,000 buildings, 24,921 across the region had collapsed or were heavily damaged by the quake.

Opposition leaders have long accused Erdoğan’s government of not enforcing building regulations and of failing to account for the proceeds of special levy imposed after the 1999 İzmit earthquake to ensure apartment blocks and offices were more quake-resistant.

The president has accused his critics of lying and in remarks, so far, has seemed to blame fate for the disaster, saying such catastrophes have always happened and are destiny’s plan. He has pledged to start rebuilding within weeks.

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