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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 14:05 GMT


World: Europe

Quake rescue repairs government's image

Many rescuers had experience of working together in August

Thousands of survivors of last week's earthquake in north-west Turkey protested on Tuesday that the government was not doing enough to ease their plight and accused it of "official neglect".

Turkey Earthquake
But the demonstration in the badly-hit city of Bolu was a rare attack on rescue efforts, which elsewhere have been widely praised.

The prompt response to Friday's disaster has bolstered the Turkish government, just three months after an angry nation was questioning the future of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

After the August quake, press and citizens alike rounded on the state for its poorly-organised rescue operation.

'No mistakes'

But the authorities are now recouping some of their lost prestige.

"No mistakes this time," said the headline in the mass circulation daily Milliyet on Saturday.

And Radikal, a paper that was among the harshest critics in August, praised the government for acting faster second time around.


[ image:  ]
Friday's tragic quake has given the government an opportunity to show citizens it is in control.

Soldiers were rushed to Duzce, Bolu and other hard-hit towns in the north-west, while a crisis centre quickly dispatched foreign and Turkish teams to the region.

The prime minister immediately addressed the press and later headed out to the affected area.

The government has also had to allay the fears of world leaders, many of whom are preparing to gather in quake-prone Istanbul on Thursday for a summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Experience

"We reached the point that had taken us one week to reach [during the first quake] in just one day," Labour Minister Yasar Okuyan said 48 hours into the latest disaster.


[ image:  ]
"We were suffering from a lack of experience, but now there is a rescue team working on every single collapsed building."

Much of the criticism in August was directed at Turkey's powerful armed forces, who appeared to be in shock at the huge scale of the disaster, which killed more than 17,000 people and brought down tens of thousands of buildings.

Turks had long regarded the army, which plays a central role in society, as their most efficient organisation.

They were stunned at the slow response, and international rescue teams complained they had little idea where they were needed even days after the quake had struck.

There have been no such complaints this time, although rescuers do point out that the latest quake brought only a fraction of the death and destruction of the one in August.

"This time most of the buildings that collapsed were already damaged in the last quake and so many were empty anyway," said Nasuh Mahruki, head of Akut, Turkey's civilian search and rescue group.

Turkey also had rescue equipment on hand that was donated after the earlier quake, and many of the rescue teams had the experience of having worked together in August.



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