Erdogan defends Turkey earthquake response after critics arrested

Erdogan defends Turkey earthquake response after critics arrested

Follow the latest news on the earthquake in Turkey and Syria

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing growing criticism from the public and rival politicians after Twitter was allegedly blocked for 12 hours in earthquake-hit southern Turkey on Wednesday amid anger over the government’s response to the disaster.

Turkish media reported that deputy minister of transportation Omer Fatih Sayan had warned the platform over the spread of “disinformation,” a genuine concern after false reports of tsunamis and the risks to Turkey’s nuclear reactors spread on the platform.

But the Twitter outtage — reported by online activist group Netblocks — also fuelled anger about the government’s slow response to Monday’s earthquake.

Many survivors said the government had been completely absent from some badly affected areas, leaving them without provisions, shelter or professional help to save people still buried under rubble in freezing conditions.

In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President

Opposition political parties and rescuers said the absence of Twitter made the situation worse, hampering rescue attempts as people used it to co-ordinate assistance across vast areas where road networks have been badly damaged.

They said the temporary loss of the social media service was simply an attempt by Mr Erdogan to stem criticism of the government.

In one camp visited by The National in Gaziantep, a city near the epicentre, people deplored the lack of emergency response.

One man standing by his house, which was badly damaged, said that he could not re-enter the unsafe building but that “no one gave us any tents, we only received some food and that’s all”.

“Where is the bread they promised us?” said Amina Ahmad, 50.

Her home was still standing but “we don’t have water and barely any electricity”, she said with exasperation.

Acknowledging problems with the response, Mr Erdogan, who declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces and sent troops to help, visited Kahramanmaras on Wednesday to view the damage and see the rescue and relief effort.

His response to the disaster could prove critical in a key national election planned for May but almost certain to be delayed.

Speaking to reporters, he said there had been problems with roads and airports but “we are better today”.

“We will be better tomorrow and later. We still have some issues with fuel … but we will overcome those too,” Mr Erdogan said.

But critics pointed to Mr Erdogan’s intolerance of criticism, which bears the hallmarks of some of his more extreme crackdowns on opposition.

“In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest,” he said.

Police have detained 18 people over “provocative” social media posts that criticised the government’s response.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said on Wednesday near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya, where her young relatives were trapped.

Tens of thousands of people are now fending for themselves.

In the centre of Gaziantep, The National saw a dozen families set up a camp of makeshift shelters in a garden.

“We put them up ourselves”, said Hassan, 59, a Syrian refugee from Palmyra, while cooking a traditional stew from his hometown to feed the displaced families in the camp.

He is staying in a makeshift shelter with his wife and three children amid freezing temperatures. As many as 17 members of a family were crammed together in the back of a van.

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