Dozens of contractors were detained over the weekend in Turkey, as anger grows over the consequences of the devastating earthquakes and the government vows to take action against construction negligence and flaws.

The country’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, said on Sunday that the government had already identified 131 people as responsible for the collapse of thousands of buildings and the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the 10 quake-struck provinces. He said that 114 of the people had been taken into custody.

“We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and buildings that caused deaths and injuries,” he said.

The Turkish Justice Ministry on Saturday ordered authorities in the affected areas to set up “Earthquake Crimes Investigation Departments” and appoint prosecutors to bring criminal charges against anyone connected to poorly constructed buildings that collapsed.

The death toll has climbed to more than 29,000, the Turkish Emergency Coordination Center said on Sunday.

Some 80,278 people were injured in the quakes. At least 218,406 search and rescue personnel were working in the field, according to Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).

Environment Minister Murat Kurum said that 24,921 buildings across the region had collapsed or were heavily damaged in the quake, based on assessments of more than 170,000 buildings.

Opposition politicians are openly blaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the fact that the country was ill-prepared for the catastrophe, the mismanagement of a special tax imposed after the last major earthquake in 1999 in order to make buildings more resistant, as well as for the slow relief effort.

In the meantime, German and Austrian rescue teams have suspended operations, citing security concerns and reports of clashes between people, looting incidents and gunfire. The German International Search and Rescue (ISAR) and Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) said they would resume work as soon as AFAD classifies the situation as safe.

Erdoğan warned that looters would be dealt with “firmly,” saying a state of emergency declared in the affected provinces would allow authorities to act to prevent further incidents.

Among the contractors arrested is Mehmet Yasar Coskun, the contractor of a 12-story building in Hatay with 250 apartments, once advertised as “a frame from heaven,” which was completely destroyed. He was arrested at the Istanbul airport as he was trying to board a flight to Montenegro. It is believed that some 1,000 people were living in the residence, and most of them are still under the rubble.

Another one is Mehmet Ertan Akay, after the collapse of his building in the city of Gaziantep. He was charged with reckless manslaughter and building code violations.

Giving a signal that the devastating quake could lead to Greece and Turkey mending fences, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias paid an unexpected visit to the country and together with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited the flattened areas and met with the Greek rescue teams operating in the quake zones. Tensions between the neighboring countries have been particularly high in recent months, especially as both governments plan elections by summer.

Nektaria Stamouli

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