Turks: Erdogan Would Rather Aid Palestinians Than Own Quake-stricken People

Complaining of poor government coordination in wake of massive earthquake, Turkish homeless families scramble for tents after enduring two nights of biting cold.

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Fighting broke out among Turkish earthquake survivors on Tuesday as homeless families scrambled for tents after enduring two nights of biting cold under whatever shelter they can find.

Complaints about poor tent distribution have been rife since Sunday's quake destroyed thousands of homes and made many others uninhabitable, and anger among the destitute is being directed at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Rescue attempts in Tabanli village near the city of Van after a powerful earthquake struck eastern Turkey Sunday Oct. 23, 2011.Credit: AP

Desperation boiled over in a crowd of around 200 people in the eastern city of Van on Tuesday. Fists flew and people shoved and pulled each other, trying to grab one of the tents which relief workers handed out from the back of a truck.

Survivors, many of whom have been forced to huddle round small fires in the open, accused Erdogan of putting international diplomacy before his own citizens.

"There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent. The Prime Minister should take care of his own people before going to Somalia and Libya," said jobless 18-year-old Suleyman Akbulut.

Women in the crowd were hit and kicked as people tried to force their way through to get to the tents, while police tried in vain to establish order.

Turkey has been showered with offers of outside help since the quake, in which 2,262 buildings collapsed, while many people are afraid to re-enter homes with cracked walls and ceilings.

At first, Ankara accepted the offers only from neighboring Iran, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. However, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that it had now requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.

These included Israel, with which relations have been tense since Israel's killing of nine Turks aboard a flotilla bound for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza last year.

"The prime minister runs for help when it's Palestine or Somalia, sends ships to Palestine, almost goes into war with Israel for the sake of Palestinians, but he doesn't move a muscle when it comes to his own people," said Emrullah, an 18-year-old from Van.

"He rejects aid offers from around the world, but we need tents here," Emrullah said before the announcement of the international request for help.

The death toll from the 7.2-magnitude quake rose to 459, with 1,352 injured, the Disaster and Emergency Administration said. The final count was likely to rise further as many people were still missing.

The urgency to find shelter has been heightened by worsening weather. Temperatures are falling to zero at night and rain poured down on Tuesday, with winter snows expected to start falling within a month.

A young man in his twenties complained that the tents were being sold at a nearby government shop for 200 lira, or around $110. He said the shop assistant was selling them to friends for a cheaper price and he decided against buying.

"Everything is so corrupt here, and the government claims people here have got everything. It's a lie," said the man, who declined to give his name.

The Turkish Red Crescent distributed up to 13,000 tents, and was preparing to provide temporary shelter for about 40,000 people, although there were no reliable estimates of the number of destitute people.

The relief agency has been criticized for failing to ensure that some of the most needy, particularly in villages, received tents and Erdogan's AK Party has apologized for the problems.

"I don't think the Red Crescent was successful enough in giving away tents. There is a problem on that matter," Huseyin Celik, AK's deputy chairman, said on Monday. "I apologize to our people."



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