:Earthquake In Turkey: Country turns on its national hero

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a turning point. As Turkey's Prime Minister stood shaking his head over the ruins of his earthquake-devastated country, the survivors turned on him. "When are they going to come and help us?" Zeyfettin Kus shouted in helpless rage, standing by the rubble where he feared his loved ones were buried. "When we are all dead?"

Bulent Ecevit had been the man who could do no wrong. In a country where most politicians are despised, the premier, 73, is a national hero. His is almost the only clean name in one of the world's most sleaze- ridden political scenes. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time: he was prime minister at Turkey's two greatest recent triumphs: the invasion of Cyprus in 1975, and the capture of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this year. Now it looks as if Mr Ecevit's luck has turned. As the search for survivors becomes more forlorn, Turks are lashing out at his government, saying the relief effort is uncoordinated, and unfair.

Buses carrying rescue workers have been ambushed by angry mobs, furious that the rescuers were not sent to their destroyed homes. In the desperately damaged town of Golcuk, survivors complained that a team of Israeli rescuers had been sent to the ruins of a naval base, while civilians were left to dig with their bare hands. "The state has done nothing for us," complained one elderly man. "We've seen nothing of them. We're doing all we can to save ourselves".

In Ankara, Mr Ecevit conceded that it is impossible to send rescuers everywhere, but he defended the relief effort. "Rescue work is very sensitive," he said. "If it's not done carefully, you can save one life only to lose 10."

But he may not be able to assuage an angry public. The government is also coming under increasing fire for failing to police the irresponsible constructors whose inadequate apartment blocks crumbled into dust. Mr Ecevit may respond that no previous government had addressed the problem - but as he has claimed credit for the successes of others in the past, not least the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, now he is being made to answer for their tragic mistakes.

Even so, he is not coming under as much fire as Turkey's hapless President, Suleyman Demirel, who provoked fury when access roads were closed to rescue vehicles to make way for his motorcade as he toured the disaster area. In 1988, when 144 people were killed by an earthquake in southern Turkey, rescue operations were halted so he could be filmed inspecting wrecked buildings.