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Turkish President faces growing criticism over deadly wildfires

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The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under increasing criticism for its seemingly poor response and inadequate preparedness for large-scale wildfires, as flames tear through forests and villages on the country’s southern coast.

Fueled by strong winds and scorching temperatures, the fires that broke out on Wednesday killed eight and forced thousands of residents and tourists to flee homes and resorts in boats or convoys of cars and vehicles. trucks.

Charred and blackened trees replaced some of the pine-covered hills on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast as many villagers lost their homes and livestock.

Firefighters are still battling nine fires in the coastal provinces of Antalya and Mugla, which are popular tourist destinations. Other active fires were reported in Adana and Isparta provinces.

A total of 137 fires that have started in more than 30 provinces have been extinguished, officials said.

A senior forestry official described the forest fires as the worst in living memory in Turkey, although he could not say how many hectares of forest land had been devoured.

He also couldn’t estimate how long it would take crews to put out the fires, saying strong winds rekindle flames that had previously been brought under control.

People watch the advance of the fires in Hisaronu AP)

As residents lost their homes and livestock, anger turned to the government, which admitted it did not have a fleet of firefighting planes and that existing planes were no longer available. not in working order.

Opposition parties have accused the government of failing to purchase firefighting planes while funneling funds for construction projects they say are harmful to the environment.

Mr Erdogan’s government has also been accused of undermining firefighting efforts by denying aid from Western countries, including rival Greece, at first.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli dismissed the charge, saying the government only turned down offers of planes with a water discharge capacity of less than five tons.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan monitors forest fires from his plane
Recep Tayyip Erdogan monitors forest fires from his plane (Turkish Presidency / PA)

The Israeli embassy said Israel had also offered to help, but Turkish officials refused, saying “the situation is under control.”

Local mayors have posted videos pleading for responses to wildfires in their areas as celebrities have joined a social media campaign to ask for foreign aid.

The campaign angered Erdogan’s senior aide, Fahrettin Altun, who said: “Our Turkey is strong. Our state is strong. “

Firefighting planes sent from Spain and Croatia join planes from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. A total of 16 planes, 51 helicopters and more than 5,000 people were fighting the blazes, officials said.

Firemen near Bodrum
Firemen near Bodrum (AP)

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 36 people in Mugla and 11 people in Antalya were being treated in hospitals for injuries related to the fires.

Authorities have opened investigations into the cause of the fires, including possible sabotage by Kurdish militants, but experts mainly point to climate change, as well as accidents caused by people.

A heat wave in southern Europe, fueled by warm air from North Africa, has caused forest fires in the Mediterranean, especially in Italy and Greece.

In Italy, the head of the civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, described as “dramatic” the forest fires affecting much of central and southern Italy.

Firefighters were fighting seven major fires in Calabria, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia on Tuesday, using planes near Matera, Basilicata and around three fires in Calabria.

Tourists walk through the closed entrance to the Acropolis
Tourists walk past the closed entrance to the Acropolis (Michael Varaklas / AP)

Greek authorities closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during the afternoon as temperatures hit 42 ° C in parts of the Greek capital.

Greek authorities have described the heat wave as the most intense in more than 30 years.

The fire department maintained an alert for most of the country on Tuesday, while utilities and some private services changed their hours of operation to allow for afternoon closures.