Football fans sing ‘government resign’ as Erdogan battles to contain earthquake anger

Football fans sing ‘government resign’ as Erdogan battles to contain earthquake anger
Thousands of soft toys for distribution to children affected by the major earthquake rained down on the pitch at the Besiktas football club's stadium in Istanbul. / beIN Sports, screengrab
By bne IntelIiNews February 28, 2023

Fans at weekend football matches in Turkey sang “government resign” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan battled to contain anger at the sheer scale of the fatalities and devastation wrought by the country’s twin-earthquake disaster.

In another scene at a football stadium, fans of Besiktas in Istanbul threw thousands of soft toys onto the pitch for distribution to children affected by the major earthquakes, so far known to have killed more than 51,000 people across southeastern and southern Turkey and northern Syria.

The February 6 quakes, of magnitudes 7.8 and 7.5, destroyed or badly damaged 160,000 buildings containing 520,000 apartments. The fact that so many buildings were “pancaked” by the tremors has been blamed on poor-quality construction work. Opposition politicians say that during Erdogan’s two decades in power, laxity, incompetence or endemic corruption practices meant building firms could easily get away with adding to profits by putting up sub-standard homes in areas known to be at high-risk of a major earthquake.

Responding to public dismay, the Erdogan government—facing elections by June 18—has announced that more than 500 people are under investigation for the erection of inadequate housing, with nearly 200 people, including construction contractors and property owners, arrested.

But with tremors continuing to shake Turkey—a  moderate quake with a 5.6 magnitude killed at least one person when it hit the country’s southeastern Malatya province on February 28—the finger of blame for the carnage still very much points at the government.

There have been four new earthquakes and 45 aftershocks of magnitudes 5-6 since the February 6 quakes, according to Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). AFAD chief Orhan Tatar described it as "very extraordinary activity".

Each new tremor gives the opposition a chance to castigate Erdogan for “having done nothing” to prepare the country for major earthquakes during his 20 years as Turkey's leader.

There’s also continuing criticism over how slow the search and rescue services were in reaching parts of stricken areas on the day of the major quakes.

During February 28, Erdogan, on a visit to Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey—one of the worst-impacted cities in the disaster—asked people for understanding over rescue delays.

The president said the tremors and bad weather meant "we could not work as we would have liked". "For this, I ask forgiveness," he said.

"I did not see anyone until 2:00 pm on the second day of the earthquake," Adiyaman resident Mehmet Yildirim told AFP earlier this month.

"No government, no state, no police, no soldiers. Shame on you! You left us on our own."

The disaster has left 1.5mn people homeless. There are shortages of tents for survivors.

Al-Monitor reported on February 27 about a fresh wave of popular fury triggered by news that the Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay) through a little-known business arm sold thousands of tents to a Turkish charity, Ahbab, instead of dispatching them immediately and free of charge to victims when the first earthquakes struck. 

Ahbab’s founder, Turkish pop star Haluk Levent, confirmed the purchase totalling Turkish lira (TRY) 46mn ($1.9mn). Levent tweeted: “While people were freezing to death, trying to survive, we didn’t have the luxury of debating ‘should we buy these tents or not.’” The performer conceded Kizilay gave him “a discount,” but it also charged him a value added tax.