Turkey widens probe into building collapses as quake toll exceeds 50,000
Turkey has arrested 184 people suspected of responsibility for the collapse of buildings in this month’s earthquakes and investigations are widening, a minister said on Saturday, as anger simmers over what many see as corrupt building practices, Reuters reported.
Overnight, the death toll from the earthquakes, the most powerful of which struck at the dead of night on Feb. 6, rose to 44,128 in Turkey. That took the overall number of deaths in Turkey and neighbouring Syria to more than 50,000.
More than 160,000 buildings containing 520,000 apartments collapsed or were severely damaged in Turkey by the disaster, the worst in the country’s modern history, read the report.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that more than 600 people had been investigated in connection with collapsed buildings, speaking during a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, which was among 10 provinces hit by the disaster.
Those formally arrested and remanded in custody include 79 construction contractors, 74 people who bear legal responsibility for buildings, 13 property owners and 18 people who had made alterations to buildings, he said.
Many Turks have expressed outrage at what they see as corrupt building practices and flawed urban developments, Reuters reported.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces the biggest political challenge of his two-decade rule in elections scheduled to be held by June, has promised accountability.
In the province of Gaziantep, the mayor of the Nurdagi district – who is from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party – was among those arrested as part of the investigations into collapsed buildings, state broadcaster TRT Haber and other media reported.
‘BREAKING MY HEART’
Nearly three weeks since the disaster, there is no final death toll in Turkey and officials have not said how many bodies may still be trapped under the rubble, Reuters reported.
A firefighter helping to clear the rubble in the hard-hit city of Antakya said body parts were being found on a daily basis.
“It’s very difficult. You cannot tell a man to continue working if he’s lifting out a person’s arm,” said the firefighter, who declined to be identified.
Nearly two million people left homeless by the disaster are being housed in tents, container homes and other facilities in the region and in other parts of the country, Turkey’s disaster management authority said.
More than 335,000 tents have been erected in the quake zone and container home settlements are being established at 130 locations, while nearly 530,000 people have been evacuated from affected areas, it added.
But near Antakya, Omran Alswed, a Syrian, and his family are still living in makeshift shelters.
“Our houses are heavily damaged so we have taken shelter here, in a garden in our neighbourhood,” said Alswed.
“The biggest issue is tents. It has been 19 days and we are yet to receive a single tent. We also applied to move into a tent camp but they said the ones nearby are full,” he said.
Turkey’s only remaining ethnic Armenian village, Vakifli, was badly hit by the quake, with 30 of its 40 stone houses heavily damaged.
“Vakifli is all we have, the only Armenian village in Turkey. It is our home. Seeing it like this is breaking my heart,” said Masis, a 67-year-old retired jeweller, who moved back to his hometown after spending 17 years in Istanbul.
Turkey and Armenia are still at odds over the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey. Armenia says this constitutes genocide.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies it was systematic, read the report.
Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan fears arrest as he heads to court
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan said on Saturday he expected to be arrested as he headed to court on graft charges, after days of legal wrangling and pitched battles between his supporters and police.
The 70-year-old former cricket star has been tangled in a slew of court cases, a frequent hazard for opposition figures in Pakistan’s mudslinging politics, AFP reported.
“I am going to the Islamabad court right now. I want to tell you all that they have made a plan to arrest me,” he said in a video message from the motorway, claiming he was the target of a plot to stop him from standing in elections due by October.
“The point of their attack on my house was not to present me before the Islamabad court. The purpose was to put me in jail.”
Khan was ousted in a no-confidence motion last year and has been pressuring the fragile coalition government which replaced him to hold early elections.
Earlier this week Khan’s supporters fought pitched battles with police sent to arrest him in the eastern city of Lahore after he failed to appear in court, citing security concerns.
Authorities were later stood down after a flurry of court hearings and Khan’s promise to appear in the capital on Saturday.
Some 4,000 security officials including elite police commandos, anti-terrorism squads and paramilitary rangers have been deployed around Islamabad with hospitals put on high alert, AFP reported.
Police meanwhile raided his house in a plush Lahore neighbourhood after blocking nearby roads and suspending mobile services in the area.
The case has been brought by the Election Commission of Pakistan which has accused Khan of not declaring gifts received during his time as premier, or the profit made from selling them.
Fire kills 10 members of family in Pakistan
At least 10 people, including children and women, were killed and three injured in a fire incident early Friday morning in the Seri area of Pattan, the district headquarters of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Lower Kohistan, Dawn reported.
Lower Kohistan Rescue 1122 spokesperson, Farman Ali, said that the fire erupted in a wooden house due to an electric short circuit in the early hours of Friday when the residents were asleep.
As a result, the house’s roof collapsed, leading to the deaths of 10 family members and leaving three others injured. Ali further said that until the residents woke up, the entire house had been engulfed in fire.
The rescue official said that as it was dark when rescue efforts were underway, and they faced difficulties in retrieving the bodies and the injured.
“However, their bodies have been recovered and the three injured have been shifted to Pattan’s Rural Health Centre,” Ali added.
He further said that eight buffalos also perished in the incident as the fire was on a “huge scale” and locals had taken part in the rescue efforts as well.
IEA forces in Balkh told to be in uniform during house-to-house searches
Balkh’s acting governor, Mawlavi Mohammad Yusuf Wafa said in a meeting on Thursday with district governors and police commanders that no security officers or Mujahid would be allowed to search houses while wearing plain clothes.
Wafa also discussed problems with the district governors and police chiefs of the province.
He said Balkh was an important province in Afghanistan, and that the recently slain governor, Shahid Mohammad Dawood Muzamil, had done a good job.
He urged the officials “to follow the seniors, fulfill their responsibilities correctly, and provide services to the people in an honest manner”.
Mawlavi Mohammad Dawood Muzamil, the governor of Balkh province, was killed in an explosion at the governor’s compound last Thursday.
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