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Erdoğan vows to criminalize building code violations pardoned multiple times by his gov’t

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said building code violations pardoned under so-called construction amnesties multiple times by his government would be included on a list of serious crimes if his party remains in power after May 14 elections.

The president answered questions on current national and international issues in an interview broadcast live on CNN TÜRK and Kanal D on Wednesday.

“In our new term in office, we will classify violation of building codes as a crime because there can be no amnesty for issues like this,” the president said.

Erdoğan said building code violations would be included on a list of serious crimes in the Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK) such as crimes against state security, organized crime and sexual assault against children.

Although the president now speaks ill about building code violations, his government has been harshly criticized for issuing multiple amnesties for them, particularly after two powerful earthquakes flattened thousands of buildings in Turkey’s south and southeast on Feb. 6, claiming more than 50,000 lives.

Many claimed after the earthquakes that construction amnesties, under which previously illegal buildings are approved without requiring that they comply with an updated building code, were among the actions that might have worsened the effects of the disaster.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) last pushed legislation on a construction amnesty before the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2018 in a move apparently intended to woo voters.

A total of 438,000 property owners benefited from the legislation and had their buildings approved by paying a fine without the need to conform to the building code, putting the responsibility for earthquake readiness on the property owners.

Erdoğan came under fire on social media after saying his government would criminalize building code violations if it remains in power after the elections on May 14 as if his government wasn’t responsible for the multiple construction amnesties issued in Turkey since 2002 when the AKP came to power.

A video showing Erdoğan bragging about this legislation was shared widely on social media following his statements, bringing the president widespread criticism for putting people’s lives at risk by allowing building code violations in a country that is located on major fault lines.

In the video, Erdoğan says in rallies in Kahramanmaraş, Hatay and Gaziantep in 2019, which are among the hardest-hit provinces from February’s earthquake, that his government “solved the problems” of 438,000 people with the construction amnesty legislation.

“The buildings that you issued amnesties for claimed the lives of our people. If it’s a crime, you committed it. … Shame on this mentality!” Seyit Torun, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a tweet addressed to Erdoğan and his AKP government.

“What about [taking] responsibility for the lives lost [in the earthquakes]?” CHP MP Tuncay Özkan also said, sharing a video of both of Erdoğan’s comments on the amnesty in 2019 and on Wednesday.

Following another powerful earthquake in Turkey’s Marmara region in August 1999, which left more than 17,000 people dead, Turkey tightened its building code to make buildings more earthquake resistant, but there have always been shortcomings in the implementation of the code, and the construction amnesty came as a blow to efforts aimed at constructing safer buildings.

The first such legislation went into force in 1984 and was pushed many times by subsequent governments to win support.

According to a booklet on construction amnesty published by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change in 2018, more than 50 percent of the buildings in Turkey were constructed in violation of the current building code.

Shortly after the legislation came into effect in 2018, the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) Ankara branch chair Selim Tulumtaş warned in remarks to the Turkish media that the legislation put the lives of 2.7 million people across the country at risk since they live in shoddily constructed buildings.

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