Turkey Opens First Major Trial Into Earthquake Deaths

ISTANBUL — Turkey on Wednesday opened the first major trial linked to the construction of buildings that crumbled in two massive earthquakes that claimed more than 50,000 lives in February 2023.

The hearing in the southeastern city of Adiyaman involves 11 defendants accused of “conscious negligence” while overseeing the construction of the Isias Hotel.

Five of the 11 defendants, including the hotel’s owner, have been arrested and charged with crimes that could see them jailed for more than 20 years each.

The hotel’s collapse killed 24 children from Northern Cyprus who had flown to Turkey to attend a students’ volleyball tournament.

They died together with a group of parents and chaperones in what Turkish prosecutors now say was a tragedy that could have been averted had proper safety standards been met.

The building’s collapse claimed the lives of 72 people in all — 39 of them from Northern Cyprus.

It was the single biggest tragedy in the history of the separatist statelet, whose self-rule is recognized only by Ankara.

The indictment says the building was illegally converted from a residence into a hotel in 2001. It adds that the hotel had illegally erected an additional floor to the nine permitted by the original plan.

The plaintiffs include Northern Cyprus Prime Minister Unal Ustel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged politically unscathed from the disaster, winning reelection months after the quake struck.

He blamed the large death toll on corrupt property developers who paid off local inspectors in order to use cheap building materials and illegally put up additional floors.

Turkish police arrested some 200 people over allegedly poor building construction immediately after the first 7.8-magnitude quake struck.

Erdogan’s critics counter that most of Turkey’s main construction and real estate companies have formed a close relationship with the ruling AKP party during his 21-year rule.

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