Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted for the first time Friday that his government’s search and rescue effort from this week’s devastating earthquake was not going as quickly as hoped, Agence France-Presse reported.
Erdoğan has faced criticism from earthquake survivors about an insufficient number of rescuers and humanitarian aid being delivered in the first days of Turkey’s biggest disaster in nearly a century.
The death toll from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor has surpassed 22,000 across southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria.
Nearly 19,000 of those deaths were in Turkey.
Erdoğan repeated an earlier admission that there had been “shortcomings” in his government’s response.
But he appeared to go one step further by conceding that his teams could have responded more quickly.
“So many buildings were damaged that, unfortunately, we were not able to speed up our efforts as quickly as we had desired,” Erdoğan said during a visit to the hard-hit southern city of Adıyaman.
He added that Turkey had now gathered “perhaps the world’s largest search and rescue team” comprising 141,000 participants across 10 affected provinces.
He also fired back at his critics heading into a tight election the government plans for May 14.
Erdoğan called out “opportunists who want to turn this pain into political gain.”