Erdoğan, İstanbul mayor spar over number of post-quake assembly zones in city

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In the wake of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that shook İstanbul on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said there are tens of thousands of post-earthquake assembly zones, a claim refuted by İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.

The temblor rattled buildings and damaged two mosques in İstanbul, slightly injuring eight people and causing panic among residents, who rushed out into the street.

Following the quake, many have begun to question the number of post-earthquake assembly zones in Turkey’s most populous city and accuse Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since 2002, of opening up these spaces to construction for pro-government businessmen.

Responding to the criticism, Erdoğan said in a statement on Thursday upon his return from a UN meeting in New York: “We have thousands of post-earthquake assembly zones in İstanbul.” He said the location of these zones are posted on the website of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) and regularly updated.

However, İstanbul Mayor İmamoğlu, who was elected from the ranks of the opposition in June, did not draw an optimistic picture like Erdoğan, saying: “If only I could also say ‘we have thousands of post-earthquake assembly zones.’ Unfortunately, this is not true. The number of this kind of zone in this city has unfortunately dropped. There are hardly any of these zones in some districts and neighborhoods.”

Some experts say there are only 77 such zones, far from being sufficient for the city’s population of 16 million.

Erdoğan has overseen a credit-fueled infrastructure and construction boom in İstanbul, which has driven economic growth during his 16 years in power. Many of the construction firms are tied to businesses close to the government.

Over the past years, many of the urban renewal projects in İstanbul targeted valuable land where high-rises, luxury housing and shopping centers sprouted up, while poorer and higher-risk areas were neglected.

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and prone to earthquakes.

More than 600 were killed and 4,000 injured after a powerful 7.2 earthquake hit the southeastern Turkish province of Van on Oct. 23, 2011.

In 1999 a quake measuring 7.6 struck the city of İzmit, 90 kilometers southeast of İstanbul, killing more than 17,000 people.

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