As anger spread in Turkey over the widely perceived failure of the government to properly prepare for devastating earthquakes that any expert in the field worth their salt knew were bound to happen at some point in the foreseeable future, the country’s main opposition leader took a potshot at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), blamed Erdogan for the scale of the devastation.
Erdogan, who has served as Turkey’s leader for two decades, and his succession of AKP governments had "not prepared for an earthquake for 20 years", argued Kilicdaroglu.
"If there is one person responsible for this [scale of disaster], it is Erdogan," he added.
Anticipating criticism that this is not a time for politics—even with parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for May 14—Kilicdaroglu said: “I refuse to look at what is happening as above politics and align with the ruling party. This collapse is exactly the result of systematic profiteering politics.”
On a visit to Hatay, one of the regions most impacted by the huge earthquakes, Erdogan hit back, saying it was "not possible" to be prepared for such a big disaster.
"This is a time for unity, solidarity. In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest," Erdogan told reporters in Hatay.
In further comments on a visit to quake-hit Kahramanmaras, Erdogan acknowledged there had been difficulties with the initial response to the disaster, but blamed the delays on damaged roads and airports. The situation, he said, was now “under control”. “The state is doing its job,” he further remarked.
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has come under fire for being too slow.
The president rejected the suggestion the response to the earthquakes was not fast enough, and referred to those who complained that they had not seen security forces at all in some areas since the earthquakes hit as "provocateurs".
By the end of February 8, the death toll in Turkey from the earthquakes stood at 12,391, while in Syria officials and medics determined that 2,992 people were so far confirmed dead.
The BBC reported from the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun, where locals said the state arrived too late.
"Why didn't you come yesterday, we were still hearing voices from the rubble yesterday!" one woman was cited as shouting at rescue workers.
Another woman at the scene, in tears, was reported as saying: "We could have saved them if you'd arrived yesterday." she said.
Every time there is a sizable earthquake in Turkey, there are outbreaks of anger over what happened to Turkish lira (TRY) 88bn ($4.6bn) of revenues raised as an "earthquake tax" that was levied by the Turkish government in the wake of a 7.6-magnitude quake in Izmit, east of Istanbul, in 1999 that killed around 18,000 people.
The money was earmarked for spending on disaster prevention and the development of emergency services. The government has never publicly explained how the money was spent.