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Court again arrests former mayor for role in 38 deaths in 2023 earthquakes

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A former district mayor in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep has been sent to jail again due to his alleged role in the death of 38 people in a building that collapsed as a result of two devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey in February, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

On February 6, 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes struck Turkey, claiming over 50,000 lives and leaving millions homeless in 11 provinces in the country’s south and southeast.

Former Nurdağı mayor Ökkeş Kavak

Ökkeş Kavak, the former mayor of the Nurdağı district from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is one of nine defendants accused of involvement in the death of 38 people in the Emek apartment building.

Construction of the building began without a permit in 1998 and was completed in 2021, according to the indictment. Kavak, who was not mayor at the time, worked as the contractor for many buildings in Nurdağı including the Emek.

He was also reportedly a contractor for other buildings that collapsed in Nurdağı on February 6 and drafted inaccurate soil reports for some projects. Hundreds of people died in Nurdağı in the earthquakes where around 2,000 buildings collapsed.

Although he was initially arrested pending trial along with two other suspects, Kavak and the others were released by a high criminal court in İslahiye on January 10, which led to outrage among the families of the victims.

According to Anadolu, Kavak and the two other defendants were arrested on Tuesday and sent to jail again by the Gaziantep 5th High Criminal Court after the İslahiye Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office objected to their release.

The defendants are facing up to 22-and-a-half years in prison on charges of “causing the death and injury of more than one person with conscious negligence.”

Kavak was removed from office by the interior ministry as a result of the investigation.

Municipalities in quake-stricken cities faced accusations of disregarding safety guidelines when issuing construction permits and are held responsible for the massive damage caused by the earthquakes.

The February 6 earthquakes leveled thousands of buildings and has sparked outrage from victims and people across Turkey over poor quality construction, given the fact that Turkey is located on major fault lines.

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