Turkey's Erdogan under pressure as wildfires rip through towns and forests

Thousands have had to leave their homes as more than 100,000 hectares of land burn

Pressure is growing on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he tries to pass the buck for failure to control eight days of intense forest fires on to local municipalities.

Thousands have had to leave their homes as over 100,000 hectares of land burn in blazes described by the president as the worst the country has suffered.

Distressing videos of villagers mourning the loss of their homes and livelihoods, and fierce flames ripping through once scenic forests, have caused outrage online.

Many have criticised Mr Erdogan for being ill-prepared to respond to a disaster like this, despite warnings about the imminent effects of climate change.

However, on Wednesday night, Mr Erdogan said that fault lay with the municipalities and implied that the opposition were giving the media false information in a “terrorism of lies”.

The fires have predominantly affected the country’s south coast, where most of the districts are run by main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Mayors have complained in local media that they received little support from the government, in particular that there had been a lack of planes and helicopters to put out the flames. Instead, firefighting planes from Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Ukraine, Spain and Croatia have joined the battle.

At least eight people, including two firefighters, have died while dozens more were admitted to hospital with burns and smoke inhalation.

Thousands of animals have been killed.

On Thursday, the Ankara chief public prosecutor's office began investigating social media posts that were using the hashtag #HelpTurkey, asking for international help to tackle the fires.

The tag appeared 2.6 million times. Prosecutors said it had been used to “create panic” among the public and humiliate the state.

Although summer fires play an important role in the forest ecology of southern Turkey, record-breaking temperatures, months of severe drought and strong winds have caused this year’s to be bigger.

“I saved the village with small bottles of water because that’s all we had,” a resident of Antalya’s Manavgat told The National, as his village battled to keep the fires at bay.

While Mr Erdogan has vowed to replant the burnt area, ecologists and environmentalists told The National that this would hamper the natural recovery of the forest and likely make the area more vulnerable to large fires in the future.

Tensions were already high in Turkey, with a struggling economy, spiralling inflation and anger over what some people believe was a mishandling of coronavirus measures.

Last week, theories that Kurdish terrorists had started the fires were rife, often encouraged by government officials.

A few angry residents have attacked others they accused of being arsonists.

On Wednesday, the flames reached a coal power plant in Milas, in the coastal province of Mugla, and staff were evacuated, but the fires petered out early on Thursday.

Updated: August 5th 2021, 6:47 PM
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