Turkey launches probe into 612 people after quakes

ISTANBUL (Agencies): Investigations have been launched against more than 600 people over the buildings that collapsed in Turkey’s catastrophic earthquakes earlier this month, according to the country’s justice minister. Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Saturday that 184 of the 612 suspects had been jailed pending trial.

Those in custody included construction contractors and building owners or managers, he said in televised comments from a coordination centre in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey.

“The detection of evidence in the buildings continues as a basis for criminal investigation,” Bozdag added. The aftermath of the 7.8- and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes on February 6, which led to more than 44,000 deaths in southern Turkey and more than 5,500 deaths in northern Syria, has seen many Turks question the structural integrity of many of the 173,000 buildings that collapsed or were seriously damaged.

Opposition parties have accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration of failing to enforce building regulations. The mayor of a town close to the epicentre of the earthquake was detained as part of an investigation into collapsed buildings, the local media reported on Saturday.

Okkes Kavak, who heads the district of Nurdagi in Gaziantep province and is a member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), is said to have failed to ensure construction inspections were carried out. AFAD, Turkey’s disaster management agency, said that 9,470 aftershocks had hit the region affected by the quake.

“This will continue for a long time … we expect these aftershocks to last for at least two years,” AFAD General Manager Orhan Tatar said in a media briefing in Ankara. He said a 5.3-magnitude quake that hit Bor, a town approximately about 245km west of the Februay 6 epicentre, was considered “independent” of earlier earthquakes.

Meanwhile, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake has shaken the central Anatolian Turkish province of Nigde, the Kandilli earthquake monitoring centre said, just over two weeks after two devastating earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria. Saturday’s earthquake had a depth of 7km (4.34 miles) and hit the Bor district at 1:27pm (10:27 GMT), the Turkish disaster management agency AFAD said. No casualties have been reported so far.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said response teams are on the ground to assess any damage. “There is no negative situation at the moment. May God protect our country and our nation from all kinds of disasters,” he said on Twitter. Bor is located some 350km (218 miles) west of the quake-ravaged Turkish-Syrian border region.

In the earthquakes that hit earlier this month, more than 44,000 people were killed in Turkey, where 11 provinces were affected, while the latest announced death toll in Syria was 5,914. The earthquakes were followed by more than 9,000 aftershocks, and in Turkey, damaged more than 173,000 buildings and left nearly two million residents homeless, according to government data.

Nearly 240,000 rescue workers, including volunteers, continue to work in the 11 quake-hit provinces in Turkey. Some of the areas affected by the quakes were initially difficult to access but recovery efforts continue and casualty numbers are rising as they progress. There have been no reports of survivors being rescued in recent days. Fears of another major earthquake have been rekindled in highly populated Istanbul, but a prominent Turkish seismologist has reassured the risk “hasn’t increased”.

“The risk hasn’t increased because we are talking about completely different systems,” Dogan Kalafat, the director of the Kandilli Observatory’s Earthquake-Tsunami Monitoring Center in Istanbul, told AFP.

Some 20 million people in Turkey have been affected by the quake, while the United Nations estimates 8.8 million people have been affected in Syria. Less information has come from Syria where many people were already living in precarious conditions after years of civil war.