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District governor obstructs relief efforts by pro-Kurdish party at earthquake’s epicenter

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A district governor in southeastern Turkey has threatened to take over a crisis management center run by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party to coordinate the delivery of aid to victims of a powerful earthquake in the region a week ago and seize the aid collected by relief organizations, the Evrensel daily reported.

A 7.8-magnitude quake that struck near the city of Gaziantep as people slept claimed the lives of more than 36,000 people and injured over 105,000 across 10 southeastern provinces hit hardest by the disaster, according to the latest official figures. It was followed by thousands of aftershocks, including a 7.5- magnitude temblor that struck the region later the same day.

According to Evrensel the governor of the Pazarcık district of Kahramanmaraş, the epicenter of the first earthquake, attempted to confiscate the aid collected by the Hasankoca Neighborhood Aid and Solidarity Association, saying it should be distributed by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).

The district governor, accompanied by gendarmes, on Wednesday went to the association building, where earthquake assistance is being organized under the coordination of the HDP  and several labor unions.

The governor told the charity organization members that the aid they collected would be distributed only by AFAD and that officials would be appointed to carry it through, Evrensel said, adding that the members objected to the confiscation, saying it is no different than appointing a trustee to manage the association.

The earthquake survivors in the region, who gathered to protest the district governor, were reportedly moved away by gendarmes.

“The Pazarcık district governor came here with hundreds of soldiers and said they were confiscating the aid [we collected]. He said he would appoint a managing team of six people and that we could only distribute [aid] under this management. … We said we wouldn’t accept this,” Yurdagül Cabat from the left-wing Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen) told Evrensel.

HDP lawmaker Ali Kenanoğlu said he was in Pazarcık on the second day after the earthquake and saw no government officials in the area aside from a few from AFAD.

“It was HDP that established the first mobile kitchen in the region. … The state institutions … are now confiscating the aid and supplies. Because [organized charity work] reveals their … impotence. People don’t trust them. People choose not to donate to state institutions,” Kenanoğlu added.

HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan also reacted to the blocking of her party’s relief efforts in Pazarcık during a press conference, saying they would continue to use every means available to help earthquake victims and adding, referring to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, that they would stand against “an understanding that has left people alone under the rubble and exposed to cold, hunger and thirst.”

Labor Party (EMEP) leader Ercüment Akdeniz also called on the government not to ruin the solidarity of volunteers in the earthquake regions with attempts of appointing trustees to manage the distribution of the charity collected by nongovernmental organizations

“At least for now, AFAD can work in coordination with independent organizations,” Akdeniz said.

Since last week’s quakes, many volunteers and social media users inside and outside Turkey have sent donations through nongovernmental organizations rather than government institutions such as AFAD, saying they trust charity organizations more than the Turkish government, which drew the ire of government officials and supporters.

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