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Minister denies claims that gov’t failed to promptly mobilize military after Turkey’s earthquakes

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Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has denied claims that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to mobilize the military to take part in relief efforts after powerful earthquakes shook southern Turkey on Feb. 6, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Monday.

Turkey’s most powerful earthquake in almost 100 years, which struck near the city of Gaziantep as people were still sleeping, has claimed the lives of more than 41,000 people in Turkey, according to the latest official figures. The 7.8-magnitude quake was followed by thousands of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

Following the earthquakes, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP were accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

Many, including main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said the government failed to mobilize the military in time to take part in the search and rescue efforts in the wake of the quakes.

Akar on Monday held a video conference with Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler, Deputy Minister Yunus Emre Karaosmanoğlu, force commanders and unit commanders in the earthquake area, denying the claims that the government was late to mobilize the military after the quakes.

“Biased claims that don’t reflect the facts cannot be explained in good faith. From the very first moment, the [Turkish Defense Ministry] came to [the aid of] its nation,” Anadolu quoted Akar as saying.

The minister added that from the first moment after the quakes, the ministry and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), with their soldiers, civilians, workers and technical personnel, have made whatever effort needed to be made in order to alleviate people’s pain and help them.

According to Anadolu, the operation centers of the General Staff, Land, Navy and Air Forces, as well as the Defense Ministry requested a report from the troops at 4:30 a.m., exactly 13 minutes after the initial earthquake.

The TSK Humanitarian Aid Brigade Command was given the order to “get ready,” and the 2nd Army Commander Gen. Metin Gürak started receiving status reports from the units at 4:50 a.m., Anadolu said, adding that a Disaster Emergency Crisis Center was established within the ministry at 5:00 a.m.

Akar further said that he phoned Erdoğan to inform him at 5:10 a.m. after receiving information about the latest developments from Güler and force commanders.

Pervin Buldan, a co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said last week that Erdoğan and his AKP government should have resigned since they did a poor job of coordinating search and rescue efforts after the quakes, adding that they have neither the “shame” nor the “conscience” to do so.

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