Iran appeals for foreign aid after earthquake


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Iran has appealed for foreign help to deal with the aftermath of the deadly twin earthquakes that hit it last weekend after initially claiming it was not needed.

The move indicates it is still struggling to cope amid growing criticism that it failed to react quickly and help the region along the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia, where 306 were killed and more than 3,000 injured.

Vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Iran was now welcoming assistance from abroad for the quake victims.

The government said it has provided shelter for about 50,000 people who lost their homes during the quakes, which have been followed by scores of aftershocks.

The quakes hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. At least 12 villages were totally levelled, and 425 others sustained damage ranging from 50 to 80%. The area has a population of about 300,000.

Many roads and other infrastructure were heavily damaged.

For two days after the quakes, Tehran insisted it needed no foreign assistance to handle the situation.

Iran's Red Crescent yesterday sent back a rescue team from Turkey that arrived without advance co-ordination. The head of Red Crescent Society of in the quake-struck province also said international aid was not needed.

The US said despite economic sanctions on Iran, Americans could provide food and medicine to victims of the disaster without needing a special licence.

Vice-president Rahimi said: "Now and under the current circumstances, we are ready to receive help from various countries."

His remarks followed what appears to have been scathing criticism at home.

MPs attacked the government over what they called its "slow reaction," Iranian newspapers reported.

Over the past years, the Iranian government has handed out low-interest loans for projects to reinforce buildings in rural areas. But the campaign was ineffective, mostly due to lack of supervision. Official statistics say only 20% of buildings in rural areas have metal or concrete frames.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 2003, 26,000 people were killed by a 6.6 magnitude quake that flattened the historic south-eastern city of Bam.