Local contractor the focus of Turkish anger


TURKEY: Rescue work to look for survivors of the earthquake which demolished a school in eastern Turkey has officially ended after the last two bodies of pupils were pulled out from under the debris.

The final toll in Thursday's quake stood at 167 dead and 537 injured, the governor of Bingol province, Mr Avni Cos, told the Anatolia news agency.

At the boarding school in Celtiksuyu, where 198 pupils were asleep in their dormitories when the earthquake struck, 84 children and one teacher perished and 114 survived, he said.

Meanwhile, the object of people's anger has turned to local contractor, Mr Seref Bozkus.

The four-storey building he built was reduced to five metres of twisted concrete by the first shocks of Thursday morning's earthquake. Since then, with calls for his arrest growing, he has been in hiding.

"When the government finds him, I hope they give him the harshest sentence possible", said Mr Cemil Baylan, a local farmer waiting to hear what happened to seven family members still trapped under the rubble.

"This cement is of the lowest possible quality," said Mr Nebil Yenguner, a member of Turkey's Chamber of Civil Engineering in Celtiksuyu to investigate the causes of the disaster. "The metal bars used to reinforce it were not suitable for such a tall building."

Asked whether Mr Bozkus should be punished, he hesitated, then nodded. "But it is not enough to name and blame individuals. What you see here is part of a systematic problem."

At the local mosque there were also mixed feelings on who was to blame. "Corruption is rife in the construction business here", said Abdullah. "Government officials responsible for awarding contracts are so poorly paid they are only too happy to accept bribes and turn a blind eye."

Both Abdullah and a local constructor, Hasan, emphasise the close relations Bozkus has with Bingol's new MP, Mr Ferdi Berdibek, who also made his money in building. Banned from public bids for one year last spring for repeated overbilling, Mr Bozkus has been in business again since elections last November brought Mr Berdibek to power.

Large crowds booed the MP on Friday when he attempted to justify the shortage of tents to the inhabitants of damaged houses. Hundreds of people in Bingol have spent the last two nights sleeping in streets and parks, fearing that further aftershocks could finish their buildings off.