Death toll from Syria-Turkey quake nears 10,000
Families in southern Turkey and Syria spent a second night in the freezing cold on Wednesday as overwhelmed rescuers raced to pull people from the rubble two days after a massive earthquake that killed more than 9,600 people.
In Turkey, dozens of bodies, some covered in blankets and sheets and others in body bags, were lined up on the ground outside a hospital in Hatay province.
Many in the disaster zone had slept their cars or in the streets under blankets, fearful of going back into buildings shaken by the 7.8 magnitude tremor – already Turkey’s deadliest since 1999 – that hit in the early hours of Monday.
Rescuers there and in neighbouring Syria warned that the death toll would keep rising as some survivors said help had yet to arrive.
“Where are the tents, where are food trucks?” said Melek, 64, in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, adding that she had not seen any rescue teams.
“We haven’t seen any food distribution here, unlike previous disasters in our country. We survived the earthquake, but we will die here due to hunger or cold here.”
With the scale of the disaster becoming ever more apparent, the death toll rose above 7,100 in Turkey. In Syria, already devastated by 11 years of war, the confirmed toll climbed to more than 2,500 overnight, according to the Syrian government and a rescue service operating in the rebel-held northwest.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. But residents in several damaged Turkish cities have voiced anger and despair at what they said was a slow and inadequate response by the authorities.
Erdogan, facing a close-fought election in May, is expected to visit some of the affected areas on Wednesday.
The initial quake, followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, struck just after 4 a.m. on Monday, giving the sleeping population little chance to react.
It toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands, and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.
Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east – broader than the distance between Boston and Philadelphia, or Amsterdam and Paris.
In Syria, it killed people as far south as Hama, some 100km from the epicentre.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said the number of injured was above 38,000.
In the town of Jandaris in northern Syria, rescue workers and residents said dozens of buildings had collapsed.
Standing around the wreckage of what had been a 32-apartment building, relatives of people who had lived there said they had seen no one removed alive. A lack of heavy equipment to remove large concrete slabs was impeding rescue efforts.
Rescue workers have struggled to reach some of the worst-hit areas, held back by destroyed roads, poor weather and a lack of resources and heavy equipment. Some areas are without fuel and electricity.
Aid officials voiced particular concern about the situation in Syria, where humanitarian needs were already greater than at any point since the eruption of a conflict that has partitioned the nation and is complicating relief efforts.
The head of the World Health Organization has said the rescue efforts face a race against time, with the chances of finding survivors alive slipping away with every minute and hour.
In Syria, a rescue service operating in the insurgent-held northwest said the number of dead had climbed to more than 1,280 and more than 2,600 were injured.
“The number is expected to rise significantly due to the presence of hundreds of families under the rubble, more than 50 hours after the earthquake,” the rescue service said on Twitter.
Overnight, the Syrian health minister said the number of dead in government-held areas rose to 1,250, the state-run al-Ikhbariya news outlet reported on its Telegram feed. The number of wounded was 2,054, he said.
Turkey’s deadliest earthquake in a generation has handed Erdogan a huge rescue and reconstruction challenge, which will overshadow the run-up to the May elections already set to be the toughest of his two decades in power.
The vote, too close to call according to polls before the quake, will determine how Turkey is governed, where its economy is headed and what role the regional power and NATO member may play to ease conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Philippines, US, Japan to hold first-ever joint coast guard exercise
The coast guard of the United States, Japan and the Philippines will hold a trilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea this week, the first such maneuvers between them as a time of growing concern about China’s moves in the region.
The June 1 to 7 exercise in waters off Bataan province was an initiative of the United States and Japan, while Australia would join as an observer, said Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo on Monday.
Four Philippine vessels and one each from the United States and Japan will participate in exercises designed to improve search and rescue collaboration and law enforcement, Balilo said.
The Philippines was approached by Japan and the United States about holding joint maritime exercises in February, the same month when Manila accused China of aggressive activities in the South China Sea, vast stretches of which Beijing claims as its territory, Reuters reported.
“This is a usual routine activity among coast guard agencies,” Balilo told a press conference.
“There is nothing wrong with holding exercises with your counterparts.”
Japan, Australia and the United States have frequently condemned China’s militarisation in the South China Sea and have sought to engage closer with U.S. ally the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took over as president last year from pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
Philippine ties with the United States have gained ground under Marcos, who has been increasingly vocal about China’s conduct, including over its alleged use of a “military-grade laser” against a vessel supporting a navy food re-supply mission.
It has also complained about large numbers of suspected militia lingering near Philippine-held features in the disputed Spratly islands. China maintains the actions of its coast guard are legal and in its waters.
Balilo said the upcoming maritime exercise will include counter-piracy simulations, and possibly an interception exercise involving a vessel carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Turkey’s Erdogan prevails in election test of his 20-year rule
President Tayyip Erdogan extended his two decades in power in elections on Sunday, winning a mandate to pursue increasingly authoritarian policies which have polarised Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power, Reuters reported.
His challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it “the most unfair election in years” but did not dispute the outcome.
Official results showed Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis, read the report.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
The prospect of five more years of his rule was a major blow to opponents who accused him of undermining democracy as he amassed ever more power – a charge he denies.
In a victory speech in Ankara, Erdogan pledged to leave all disputes behind and unite behind national values and dreams but then switched gears, lashing out at the opposition and accusing Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorists without providing evidence, Reuters reported.
He said releasing former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, whom he branded a “terrorist,” would not be possible under his governance.
Erdogan said inflation was Turkey’s most urgent issue.
Kilicdaroglu’s defeat will likely be mourned by Turkey’s NATO allies which have been alarmed by Erdogan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who congratulated his “dear friend” on his victory, read the report.
U.S. President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”
U.S. relations with Turkey have been impeded by Erdogan’s objection to Sweden joining NATO as well as Ankara’s close relationship with Moscow and differences over Syria.
Addressing jubilant supporters earlier from atop a bus in Istanbul, Erdogan, 69, said “the only winner today is Turkey”. “I thank every single one of our people who once again gave us the responsibility to govern the country five more years,” he said.
Erdogan’s victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago – a politically potent anniversary to be marked in October with Erdogan in charge.
Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that deflected attention from deep economic troubles.
In his victory speech, he attacked the opposition again, calling them pro-LGBT.
Kilicdaroglu, who had promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, said the vote showed people’s will to change an authoritarian government. “All the means of the state were laid at the feet of one man,” he said.
Erdogan supporters, who gathered outside his Istanbul residence, chanted Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest.
“I expect everything to become better,” said Nisa, 28, a headscarved woman wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name.
Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would get stronger with him in office for five more years.
“There are issues, problems in every country around the world, in European countries as well … With strong leadership we will overcome Turkey’s problems as well,” said the supporter who gave his name as Mert, 39, as he celebrated with his son.
Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, blamed the opposition for failing to change. “I feel sad and disappointed but I am not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the realities and truth,” Oztug said.
Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response to devastating earthquakes in February, in which more than 50,000 people died, Reuters reported.
But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it to secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations, saying France and Turkey had “huge challenges to face together”.
The presidents of Iran, Israel, and the Saudi king were among leaders to congratulate him in the Middle East, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish influence, at times with military power. Erdogan, who was for years at odds with numerous governments in the region, has taken a more conciliatory stance in recent years.
Emre Erdogan, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, attributed Erdogan’s success to his supporters’ belief “in his ability to solve problems, even though he created many of them”.
Erdogan had also maintained the support of conservative voters who long felt marginalised. “This era will be characterized by a decline in political and civil liberties, polarization, and cultural fights between two political tribes,” he said.
Erdogan appeared to have prevailed despite years of economic turmoil which critics blamed on unorthodox economic policies which the opposition had pledged to reverse.
Uncertainty about what an Erdogan win would mean for economic policy pushed the lira to record lows last week, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported last week that there was disagreement within Erdogan’s government over whether to stick with what some called an unsustainable economic programme or to abandon it.
Kilicdaroglu had promised to reset governance, restore human rights, and return independence to the courts and central bank after they were sidelined over the last decade.
Four dead, suspect arrested in rare shooting in Japan
Japanese authorities said on Friday they arrested a 31-year-old man in a rural area for suspected murder after four people were killed in a rare shooting and stabbing incident involving a 12-hour stand-off with police.
The suspect had holed up in his house after shooting two police officers who arrived at the scene in response to a report that a woman had been stabbed, the head of the Nagano prefectural police told a televised press conference as reported by Reuers. He used what appeared to be a hunting rifle in the shooting, he said.
The suspect is the son of the head of the Nakano city council, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The two police officers and the woman were taken to hospital and pronounced dead within hours, the police chief, Iwao Koyama, said.
“This is a heinous crime that has aroused great fear in the residents of the prefecture and society at large,” he said.
Another elderly woman also died after an apparent knife attack, police said. She had been lying on the ground outside the house since Thursday afternoon and police had been unable to get to her, media reported.
Police detained the man around 4:30 a.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday, about 12 hours after the first call to emergency responders, media said. He was arrested for the suspected murder of one of the police officers, Koyama said.
Shootings are extremely rare in Japan, where gun ownership is tightly regulated and anyone seeking to own a gun must go through a rigorous vetting process. The suspect had a licence for a hunting rifle, the head of the National Public Safety Commission told a separate briefing.
The suspect’s mother and aunt who were in the house with him escaped on their own, Koyama said.
Few other details were known, including the suspect’s motive.
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