International Papers

Turkey Shakes and Breaks

Newspapers everywhere led on Tuesday’s ruinous Turkish earthquake, where the latest tallies show more than 6,300 dead and at least 20,000 injured. Most reports noted that although strict building codes have been in effect in Istanbul since the 1940s, the regulations are often ignored. The Times of London said that “shoddy construction work, cheap building materials and a reckless disregard for safety,” almost certainly caused so many buildings to crumble. The Times noted that “Turkey has long been … a land of ruins,” but recommended that just as the Turkish government uses the latest techniques to protect monuments such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from seismic turbulence, so should it “apply the same rigorous standards to its more mundane buildings for it is upon them and their inhabitants that its future depends.”

Many papers quoted the headline from Turkey’s best-selling newspaper Hurriyet: “Murderers!” El Mundo of Spain said: “Adjacent to buildings that are completely destroyed there are others that are totally undamaged. How can this be? Yesterday, the Turkish authorities criticized the poor quality of many of the buildings that have gone up in the last few years in the area affected by the earthquake, a region that has experienced heavy industrial development. This undoubtedly amounts to criminal irresponsibility. Even more so, considering that they knew they were building on an active fault line that has caused dozens of devastating earthquakes in recent decades. But the builders couldn’t have put up such fragile buildings if the authorities had not permitted it.” An editorial in the liberal French daily Libération Thursday agreed, pointing out that the “the outcome in seismic catastrophes has less to do with poverty than with negligence.”

Singapore’s citizens won’t be voting for a new president Aug. 28, because the official screening committee approved only one of the three applicants for the position. S.R. Nathan, 75, was the only candidate to meet their eligibility requirements of senior government or business experience and personal integrity. According to the Straits Times of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong, the incumbent and the country’s first elected president (prior to 1993 the president was chosen by parliament), wanted to seek re-election, but the Cabinet declined to support him for a second term because it felt “there was a strong likelihood that the President’s health would affect the discharge of his official duties in the next few years.” The International Herald Tribune maintains that the selection was a deliberate effort to ensure that Singapore’s head of state would come from one of its non-Chinese minorities. Nathan is of Indian descent, while the other two applicants, like Ong, are from the country’s Chinese majority, which accounts for 77 percent of the population. The IHT said, “With Singapore’s giant neighbor to the south, Indonesia, riven by ethnic conflict, and its northern neighbor, Malaysia, about to hold elections in which the political supremacy of the Malay majority will again be an underlying issue, the Singapore government wants to re-emphasize its commitment to racial equality as the bedrock of political stability and economic growth.”

One of Indonesia’s ethnic hot spots was the subject of an editorial in the Straits Times Wednesday. The paper said that the north Sumatran province of Aceh “long a festering sore on the Indonesian body politic, is now an open wound.” More than 250 people have been killed and around 140,000 displaced from their homes since May, when the Indonesian military stepped up its campaign against the Free Aceh Movement. According to the ST, “Acehnese separatism is fuelled by popular anger against Jakarta for taking more than it returns to the resource-rich province, and by Acehnese insistence that they are an Islamic enclave distinct from the Javanese who dominate the central government.” Separatists intensified their campaign in January when the Indonesian president announced that there would be a referendum on autonomy or independence in East Timor, but the Straits Times observed, “Amputation is out because Aceh is unquestionably a part of Indonesia, unlike the former Portuguese colony East Timor it invaded and then annexed in 1976.” The editorial concluded that the “carnage will stop only when reconciliation begins,” but as a story in Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald noted, the fighting is currently intensifying, with the head of the Indonesian armed forces threatening to order a state of emergency in the province.

The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong fretted about the situation in Kosovo, where the Serbian population has shrunk from 200,000 to 50,000 as a result of post-conflict Albanian persecution. An editorial said, “Nato thought it was fighting for a multi-ethnic province. Instead, it seems about to inherit a long-term 100 per cent Albanian protectorate, ethnically cleansed by the victims of ethnic cleansing, who can be as cruel as their former tormentors when given a chance.” The SCMP concluded, “Kosovars are better off than under Serb control, but there is no peaceful solution in sight.”

The Guardian of London reported Wednesday that heavy metal rockers Led Zeppelin are the most bootlegged musical artists in Britain. The British Phonographic Industry’s anti-piracy unit has 384 titles by the group in its collection, compared with 320 by the Beatles, 317 by the Rolling Stones, and 301 by Bob Dylan (the subject of this “Browser” column on “the bootleg fallacy”). Tenth on the BPI’s list, with 170, is Jimi Hendrix–who hasn’t done many live concerts since 1970.