International Papers

Turkey on a Roll

The Turkish earthquake continues to lead world newspapers, though the focus has now shifted to the inadequacy of rescue efforts, the difficult conditions for survivors, and the apportionment of blame.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail accused the Turkish government, which spends billions on armaments, of not having “the forethought to stockpile the heavy equipment needed to dig people out at quake sites.” Similarly, the Independent of London contrasted the armed forces’ success in battling the Kurdish separatists of Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdish Workers’ Party with its failure to help quake victims: “It turned out that while they could assault the PKK with US attack helicopters, they could not even set up soup kitchens for Turkish civilians 24 hours after the earthquake.”

A leader in Britain’s Observer took an unusual position, claiming that the carelessly erected buildings of the 1980s, which have been blamed for the quake’s massive death toll, represent Turkey’s “attempt to escape from stagnation and backwardness by letting private enterprise rip.” During this building boom, “Many people got rich quick, many corruptly. But Turkey had taken a great, stumbling stride towards ‘modernity,’ towards the unprotected free-market economy which the European Union enforces on nations hoping to join it.” The paper defended the “fast-buck entrepreneurs” as “the people who carry within them the potential to bring about real changes for the better after this catastrophe.” The leader concluded, “It’s hard not to conclude that Turkey needs an old-fashioned, democratic, middle-class revolution, in which these new social forces would take the political power to which they are entitled. Only they can complete the transformation of Turkey into a law-bound, stable and open democracy of the European family. And the earthquake of 1999 would be remembered as a beginning, not only as a tragedy.”

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post praised the response of emergency services staff to the crash landing of a China Airlines jet at the city’s Chek Lap Kok Airport Sunday. Although two passengers were killed and at least 200 injured in the incident, the paper said that the prompt response undoubtedly saved lives. But the same paper reported a contradictory sentiment from one passenger, a former New York policeman: “I heard rescue teams talking on walkie-talkies directing people to come to help. It sounded like they were not familiar with the airport.” According to the paper, more than 230 people have been killed in accidents involving this model of aircraft–the McDonnell Douglas MD-11–in the past year. In recent weeks the SCMP has warned about wind shear at the airport, which opened last July.

In South Africa, the African National Congress-led government’s hard-line stance on pay raises has brought about its first showdown with public sector unions. A one-day general strike has been called for Tuesday, Aug. 24, with the participation of unions for nurses, courts and prison staff, police, and teachers. Essential service providers who are forbidden to strike are expected to come down with “white flu” on Tuesday. The government has offered a 6 percent wage raise for nonteachers and 6.5 percent for educators, while the unions demand a 7.3 percent increase and more involvement in the budgetary process. According to the Johannesburg Star, the government’s refusal to negotiate “has united unions across the ideological and race spectrum for the first time since the 1980s.”

Citing a group of U.S. lawmakers visiting East Timor, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that there is strong evidence that the Indonesian military has “worked with militia groups to sabotage” the upcoming vote for autonomy there. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told reporters that he will call on President Clinton to “support the sending of armed UN peacekeeping troops to the former Portuguese territory,” even though the Indonesian government has refused to allow international peacekeepers into East Timor for the ballot. In the Straits Times of Singapore, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the United States should tie its Indonesian aid to the referendum. He told the paper, “[I]f the election is full of intimidation and it is not fair and there is retribution after the election, then I think we will have to re-evaluate our assistance to Indonesia in a very negative way.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported Monday that thousands of racing pigeons sent out in the week of the recent solar eclipse have gone missing. Owners believe the birds were confused by the blackout. One pigeon fancier told the paper, “We don’t know for sure whether the eclipse has scrambled the birds’ brains. But whenever the sun and moon are in close proximity we have a very bad race with lots of birds going missing.” According to the Telegraph, this is the worst disaster to befall the pigeon world since 80,000 British homing pigeons were killed by torrential rain over the English Channel in June 1997.