As quake bungling continues, Turkey gives amnesty to mafia

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OUTRAGE IS spreading among Turkey's people, still shocked and angered by slow government response to the earthquake disaster, after the ruling three-party coalition suddenly forced through a Bill granting full or partial amnesty to 60,000 criminals, including murderers, torturers, mobsters and politicians jailed on corruption charges.

"It was a [government] raid on parliament," said Yusuf Kanli, a commentator for the English-language Turkish Daily News. "They wanted to benefit from the quake."

Yildirim Koc, a spokesman for Turkey's biggest labour union, Turk-Is, said if it were not for the earthquake, there would have been "widespread and intense" protests about the amnesty. Turkish authorities have struggled to cope with the aftermath of the disaster and its estimated 40,000 dead.

Three US Navy ships with 600 hospital beds have yet to be sent a single patient, one week after arriving in Turkey to provide relief, a US embassy spokesman said yesterday. In the stricken naval base and town of Golcuk, from where the US ships are clearly visible, hundreds of injured victims are having operations in makeshift outdoor hospitals.

But the government defended the rushing through of the amnesty. The Justice Minister, Hikmet Sami Turk of the junior coalition member the Motherland Party (ANAP), said it was a bid to "regain the inmates for society". But few doubt the impetus for the Bill has come from two of the parties, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and the centre-right (ANAP), whose members and supporters stand to benefit most.

The ANAP leader and former prime minister Mesut Yilmaz, and a leading ANAP MP, Gunes Taner, also a former state minister for the economy, will be among those spared by the legislation, which will halt investigations into claims that theyrigged privatisation of a state bank.

But most anger has been aroused by extending the amnesty to police and mafia members convicted of torture and murder. These include two groups of policemen jailed last year, one for the torture of teenagers accused of left-wing sympathies and another group jailed for beating to death a press photographer. All the officers will be freed.

Also likely to walk out of prison is Haluk Kirca, a member of a gang of right-wing thugs who tortured five left-wing students to death in 1979, for which he was sentenced to 70 years, later reduced to 10 in an earlier amnesty. The gang was closely affiliated to the MHP, which has a history of violence back to its founding in the 1960s.

The amnesty will also cover the Turkish mafia boss Alaatin Cakaci, awaiting extradition from France. Cakaci has warned he will make public his links with leading politicians if he is extradited.

The amnesty Bill prompted a minor revolt in the third coalition partner, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, with five MPs walking out of parliament before the vote.

Mr Ecevit said the Bill raised "certain issues which I find difficult to digest", adding that it was "a requirement of democracy". His critics believe what he really meant was that it was a requirement of his party remaining in government, and of him remaining Prime Minister.