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Erdoğan, 2 ministers face criminal complaints due to lack of military response after earthquakes

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The People’s Liberation Party (HKP), a left-wing populist political party in Turkey, has filed a criminal complaint against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and two ministers due to claims that Erdoğan prevented the military from joining in search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of several powerful earthquakes on Feb. 6, the T24 news website reported.

The first and the most powerful temblor registering a magnitude of 7.8 hit in the early hours of Feb. 6. It was followed by numerous aftershocks and another 7.5-magnitude earthquake in the afternoon of the same day, claiming more than 43,000 lives in the country’s south and southeast to date.

The HKP filed the complaints against Erdoğan, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar based on the claims of veteran journalist Memduh Bayraktaroğlu.

In a video posted on his YouTube page last week, Bayraktaroğlu claimed, based on the information he received from sources, that shortly after the first earthquake Soylu, Akar and Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Aksoy met and began to discuss the steps to be taken for the earthquake response. The journalist said the ministers agreed to use the manpower and capabilities of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for search and rescue efforts, but when they informed Erdoğan, the president strongly objected, and hence the TSK was unable to take part in the operations.

Many say the absence of the TSK led to a higher death toll since many flattened buildings were left unattended for days due to the shortage of search and rescue teams and a lack of coordination.

A few small military units were later allowed to join in the efforts.

There are claims that Erdoğan objected to the involvement of the military because he was afraid of them staging a coup against his government. In addition, he did not want the military to win the appreciation of the people for their search and rescue work or for people to think the government would not have been able to respond effectively had it not been for the TSK, some journalists say.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), established in 2009 under the Interior Ministry, is the only body responsible for coordinating search and rescue operations and relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters in the country.

AFAD has come under harsh criticism for being incapable of conducting effective search and rescue work and coordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid to victims following the earthquakes.

In 2010 Turkey revoked the so-called Protocol on Security, Public Order and Assistance (EMASYA), which was signed by the Turkish General Staff and the Ministry of Interior in 1997, authorizing the TSK to intervene in the event of a natural disaster without waiting for a request from a governor’s office.

The TSK now requires authorization from the government to act in cases of natural disasters.

It had stepped in in the aftermath of the Marmara earthquake in 1999, which claimed the lives of more than 17,000 people, in accordance with the authorization granted to it by the EMASYA protocol.

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