EARTHQUAKE ROCKS TURKEY
-BIG PICTURE…Alex MARQUARDT reports from VAN: The death toll from yesterday’s 7.2 quake stands at 264 this morning and continues to rise. The epicenter was near the large eastern city of Van (population: approximately 500,000) but the quake did its greatest damage in Ercis (population 75,000). The USGS recorded more than 100 aftershocks in the first ten hours after the quake, one measuring 6.0, and overnight we’ve seen at least six. The Hurriyet Daily News reports that between 3,000 and 4,000 buildings are estimated to be heavily damaged – and that nearly 700 buildings were so severely damaged that people were likely killed inside.
-RESCUE SNAPSHOT…The AP highlights one successful rescue – a severely injured man was pulled from the rubble today after he managed to call for help on his cell phone. Dozens of people are still trapped in hills of debris and authorities are still assessing the damage.
-RESCUE OPERATIONS…Roughly 1,275 rescue teams from 38 provinces were dispatched to the region, officials said, and Turkish troops were assisting search-and-rescue efforts. Rescuers searched throughout the night among flattened buildings as family members waited outside, some in tears. Cranes and other heavy equipment lifted slabs of concrete and residents searched for the missing with shovels. Aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to assist those in need.
-TWITTER PLEAS FOR HELP…Around five hours after the quake struck in Van province, as it become clear that many thousands of people had been made homeless, Erhan Çelik, a journalist for Turkey’s Kanal 7 TV station suggested to his 22,000 Twitter followers that those willing to offer accommodation to quake victims could send him an email. He used #ÊvimEvindirVan – or my home is your home, Van – as a Twitter hashtag, the searchable label which helps topics spread through the site. About seven hours later he tweeted: “There are 17,000 mails in my inbox. I’ll send them all to the Istanbul governorate. I thank you all in the name of earthquake victims.” Soon afterwards came the message that authorities in Istanbul would now take offers of accommodation directly and these should no longer be emailed to him. There is now a 24-hour hotline for such offers to be made. Offers also came directly via Twitter. “I am a policeman in Istanbul. We can house one family,” one read. Another said: “My house is small but I can sleep in my daughter’s room for a while. I am waiting for a family of two or three people.”
-OUTSIDE HELP…Several countries offered assistance but PM Erdogan said Turkey was able to cope for the time being. Azerbaijan, Iran and Bulgaria sent teams anyway.
-FLASHBACKS…Turkey lies near a major fault line and earthquakes are common. In 1999, two earthquakes with magnitudes over 7.0 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. More recently, a 6.0-magnitude quake in March 2010 killed 51 people in eastern Turkey, while in 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingol. Meanwhile, experts warn that overcrowding and shoddy construction in Istanbul (population 13.3 million) could kill tens of thousands if a major earthquake struck there.
LIBYA: AFTER GADHAFI
-LIBERATED…Jeffrey KOFMAN reports from Tripoli after an exciting, moving day of liberation: “The color of freedom: black, red and green. The sound of freedom: the rousing chorus ‘Libya! Libya! Libya!’ from the old national anthem – also outlawed by Gadhafi – and the face of freedom: Smiles. Everywhere.” More here…
-SAIF STILL ALIVE?…In an undated, and not-yet-authenticated audio message broadcast yesterday by Syrian’s Al-Rai station, Saif al-Islam told listeners: “We continue our resistance. I’m in Libya, alive, free and intend to go to the very end and exact revenge. I say go to hell, you rats and NATO behind you. This is our country, we live in it, and we die in it and we are continuing the struggle.”
-REVENGE KILLINGS?…Amid calls to disarm the rebel groups – Human Rights Watch said today it has discovered 53 decomposing bodies, apparently of Gadhafi loyalists, some of whom may have been executed by revolutionary forces. HRW said that the discovery in Sirte “seems part of a trend of killings, looting and other abuses committed by anti-Gadhafi fighters who consider themselves above the law.”
-ISLAMIC BURIAL FOR GADHAFI? MAYBE NOT…Egypt’s Al-Ahram published an interesting article citing that the Mufti (an Islamic scholar who is selected to interpret Sharia Law) of Libya made a statement that due to the heinous crimes Gadhafi committed throughout his life, he is not deserving of a proper Islamic burial, nor should he be prayed over – a hugely important part of Islamic burial rituals.
U.S. AMBASSADOR RECALLED FROM SYRIA
Kirit RADIA confirms that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has been “temporarily” called back to Washington. The Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy would not say whether the move was connected to security concerns linked to the country’s uprising – though that’s the leading theory. Ford’s trip comes at a time of great turmoil in Syria, which has seen months of mass anti-government protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
THE ARAB SPRING’S FIRST BALLOTS
A landmark vote - and a pretty good turnout: More than 90% of registered voters cast ballots in Tunisia’s first national elections since independence, according to the Independent High Authority for the Election. The ballot counting has begun and final results are expected Tuesday afternoon – but due to the unexpectedly large number of ballots – Al Jazeera reports that the results may be delayed. Early polling put the Islamist Ennahda Party in the lead in many constituencies. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal writes about the various efforts underway to reclaim Ben Ali’s overseas assets.
MUBARAK: PALPITATIONS WHEN HE HEARD ABOUT GADHAFI?
After a weekend of rumors about the deteriorating health of former Egyptian President Mubarak – a medical source in the center where the former president currently resides told Al-Tahrir that Mubarak caught a virus last week. Meanwhile, State-owned Al-Ahram quotes a source saying Mubarak suffered heart palpitations and increased blood pressure after learning of Gadhafi’s fate.
EUROMESS: D-DAY IS WEDNESDAY
Will we have a Euro-deal Wednesday – or more Euro-dithering? The stakes are huge. Markets opened up today after EU leaders seemed to show fresh urgency in their bid to settle on a mechanism to deal with the Eurozone debt crisis. They have said they want a solution before Wednesday’s summit. But tempers flared at the talks; The Financial Times reports that German chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy put heavy pressure on Italy’s PM Berlusconi to act more forcefully to deal with his country’s debt mess – and met with little success. Even Sarkozy and Merkel butted heads – their once close relationship that prompted the nick name “Merkozy” – may be on the rocks. And Sarkozy reportedly told British PM Cameron to sit down and shut up: “We are sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do… You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.”
IRAQ: AS U.S. TROOPS COME HOME…
-REPORT SLAMS U.S. TRAINING OF IRAQI POLICE…A U.S. State Department program to train Iraqi police lacks focus, could become a “bottomless pit” of American money and may not even be wanted by the Iraqi department it’s supposed to help. Those are the conclusions of reports released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog. The findings of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction come at a crucial time for the State Department, as it assumes sole responsibility for securing U.S.-Iraqi ties as American forces come home.
-CLINTON TO IRAN: HANDS OFF IRAQ…U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran Sunday not to view the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as an opportunity to build its influence in the country. “No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward,” she said on CNN when asked whether Iran’s relationship with Iraq is a concern.
WIKILEAKS: DONE WITH THE “LEAKS”?
A bulletin from the AP: WikiLeaks suspends publication of secrets, to concentrate on raising funds to solve money woes.
GLOBAL HEALTH: INDIA TO BE POLIO FREE?
Indian health officials say there has not been a single case of polio in the country for nine months, the longest the country has ever been polio-free. India’s health ministry says the country has never been closer to wiping out the debilitating disease since eradication efforts were launched here nearly two decades ago. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said Monday the last new case was reported in January in West Bengal state and no cases were reported in the traditional polio reservoirs of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
US-CUBA FLIGHTS INCREASE
Following a number of recent reports on the ramping up engagement – the Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. airlines are wading deeper into the charter business to Cuba as travel restrictions have loosened. By year’s end, four of the largest U.S. airlines will operate about 25 weekly flights to Cuba for charter companies. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines has been flying to Cuba for two decades, and JetBlue Airways Corp. arrived last month. The world’s two biggest carriers by traffic, United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., are resuming weekly service to Cuba after a seven-year hiatus.
NAIROBI GRENADE ATTACK
Kirit RADIA notes that this is probably not what Embassy officials had in mind when they warned of terror attacks in Kenya – but in Monday’s early hours, a grenade attack on a bar in the center of Nairobi wounded 14 people and killed two. Capital news radio quoted a witness who said a man walked into a bar, hurled a grenade and ran. The blast came a week after Kenya launched a cross-border operation against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in southern Somalia after a wave of kidnappings of foreigners on Kenyan soil.
NORTH KOREA TOURISM?
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: It may be a stretch to call this a “tourism boom,” but throngs of Japanese soccer fans are expected to make the trek to Pyongyang next month, to watch their national team take on North Korea, in the World Cup qualifier. Japan and the North have no diplomatic ties, but the two countries have agreed to put their differences aside for sports, green-lighting the match scheduled for November 15th.
JAPAN TSUNAMI DEBRIS
Akiko FUJITA again: Studies find that up to 20 million tons of debris from the earthquake are traveling faster than expected and could reach the U.S. West Coast in three years. ‘We have a rough estimate of 5 to 20 million tons of debris coming from Japan,’ University of Hawaii researcher Jan Hafner told KITV. Experts have revised predictions to say the debris will now reach the Midway Islands by winter and Hawaii in less than two years.
RUSSIAN BABY MIX UP
The BBC has a great piece out today about two Russian families that have been brought together after their daughters were switched in the maternity ward 12 years ago. They’ve grown up very differently, but now after the discovery has been made the daughters have become best friends. While neither want to switch parents – the families have grown close and are now suing the hospital for $158,300 in damages.