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Pet-lovers protest demolition of earthquake-stricken building in Turkey

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Animal lovers in a Turkish city ravaged by a deadly earthquake protested Wednesday after officials sought to demolish a damaged building thought to contain several animals, AFP correspondents saw.

Following the quake, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives in Turkey and Syria, Turkish authorities have moved to clear damaged structures to allow reconstruction to begin.

“They said the building would collapse if a crane touched it,” said protester Nilay Yılmaz. “Look, since 8:00 am they’ve been cutting at it with that machinery but the building is still standing.

“Whoever ordered the demolition is the one who killed those animals…,” he added.

“We only had one request: we said ‘let us at least go in’… They didn’t let us do that either.”

Police cordoned off the building in Diyarbakır, southern Turkey, after a crowd gathered over what protester Ramazan Tugay said was the presence of more than a dozen cats, dogs and birds inside.

The operation was briefly paused to allow a helicopter to attempt to land a member of the special forces on to the building, covered in dramatic scenes broadcast on Turkish TV. But they were unable to land and the attempt was called off.

“What kind of a Muslim country are we?” said the protester, Tugay. “These are living beings too, they can take them out as well.”

The authorities will attempt to lure out the remaining animals overnight, but the demolition operation will resume on Thursday, a police source told AFP.

More than 100 people who had lived in the building died following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that shook swathes of southern Turkey and northern Syria.

Turkey’s Bar Association called on the state to rescue the animals.

“While we were waiting for these animals to be rescued, demolition work started in the building, even though it was known that there were live animals inside,” it said.

“These animals, which were not killed by the earthquake and not killed by hunger and thirst for 16 days, started to be killed by human hands.

“All living things have an equal right to life.”

Diyarbakır was at the center of clashes between Turkish military and Kurdish militants in 2015 and 2016, and has been rocked by numerous attacks in recent years.

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