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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Nataliya Vasilyeva, Vartan Estukyan and James Rothwell

Babies flown to safety on Turkish leader’s plane as president Recep Tayyip Erdogan aims to deflect quake criticism

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with people after a deadly earthquake in Kahramanmaras. Photo: Reuters

Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew 16 babies pulled from the rubble to safety on his presidential plane, as he sought to deflect a growing backlash over the state’s disaster response.

Images of the rescue showed the babies being cradled in the private jet as they flew to the capital, Ankara.

As the death toll from the earthquake that devastated swathes of Turkey and Syria passed 20,000, with tens of thousands of others injured, the fate of the babies’ parents was unclear.

Ulku Aydeniz, the head of the Turkish Association for Foster and Adopted Families, said the orphans had been rescued in Kahramanmaras along with other children.

“After the earthquake, those children were moved out of the area, and those 16 babies are some of them – but only they are attracting media attention,” she said.

Emine Erdogan, Turkey’s first lady, was photographed visiting the babies after they arrived at a hospital in the capital. She said their survival had “lifted our spirits a little bit”.

The Turkish president has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of the crisis, with questions around whether the lax enforcement of building regulations was partly to blame for the severity of the disaster.

Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition Iyi party, yesterday said she had held back from berating the authorities on the day of the earthquake but said she could no longer stay quiet.

“The main problem of this mess is the one-man system,” said Ms Aksener, who has been tipped as a possible opposition candidate to take on Mr Erdogan at the May presidential elections.

“I invite Erdogan to be serious about it, be inclusive and work with qualified staff,” she said as she arrived at the epicentre of the earthquake in Turkey’s south-east.

Mr Erdogan has admitted there have been “shortcomings” in the response to the disaster, blaming the wintry conditions and damage to Hatay airport.

He renewed a promise to quake survivors to rebuild destroyed homes within a year.

Visiting affected regions, Mr Erdogan said the new buildings would be no more than three or four storeys tall.

Turkey’s parliament yesterday approved Mr Erdogan’s move to introduce a three-month state of emergency in the 10 affected provinces, as the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) called for an investigation into what they said were insufficient rescue efforts by the state emergency response agency AFAD.

Ali Ihsan Okten, head of the Turkish Medical Association, lashed out at state services for preventing volunteers from going to devastated areas.

“Physicians are arriving but there is no place for them to work,” Dr Okten told Turkey’s Tele 1 TV channel.

“AFAD is turning down aid, saying, ‘Everything is under control’,” he said.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, yesterday urged the international community to work on physical access for aid to earthquake-stricken parts of Syria.

Speaking in New York hours after a UN aid convoy crossed from Turkey into Syria’s rebel-held north-west for the first time since Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake, he said: “More help is on the way, but much more is needed.” .

While dozens of countries have sent rescue teams and supplies to southern Turkey, north-western Syria has received far less support.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy to Syria, said: “Syrians need more of absolutely everything.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)

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