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Erdoğan backtracks on remarks about delivery of services based on political preference

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Amid mounting criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan due to his recent remarks hinting that the government may withhold support to municipalities run by the opposition, Erdoğan has retreated from his remarks, saying his government does not discriminate against people who do not vote for his party.

His remarks came during a ceremony in southern Kahramanmaraş province, where the keys to newly completed homes were handed over to some of the people left homeless after last year’s devastating earthquakes. Erdoğan and his far-right ally, Devlet Bahçeli, were in the city along with government officials on the first anniversary of the devastating earthquakes on Tuesday.

The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes affected 11 provinces in the country’s south and southeast on February 6 2023, killing more than 53,000 people in Turkey and leaving millions homeless.

Erdoğan accused the opposition parties of making a fuss over remarks he made at a party meeting in Hatay, another earthquake-stricken city, on Saturday. In that speech Erdoğan said cooperation between Ankara and the local administration was crucial for the delivery of services.

He lamented the devastation in Hatay, one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquakes, and hinted that the neglect of the city was due to the lack of such cooperation, since the Hatay municipality is run by Mayor Lütfü Savaş of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Erdoğan’s remarks were seen as an admission of denial of aid to Hatay and were harshly criticized by opposition leaders and public figures, who accused the president of politicizing disaster relief.

Erdoğan appeared to be unsettled by the backlash on Tuesday and said his government has been allocating funds to each municipality from the state budget for years, regardless of whether they are run by an opposition or pro-government party.

He also accused the opposition municipalities of “incompetence” and “lack of foresight,” claiming that his government was making up for the services that should normally be assumed by the municipalities so that people’s lives are not disrupted.

The intensity of Erdoğan’s attacks on opposition municipalities has increased prior to the local elections of March 31, when he hopes to win back the big cities such as İstanbul and Ankara from the opposition.

Although Erdoğan claims his government does not discriminate against opposition municipalities, there is a widespread perception among the residents of opposition-run cities such as Hatay that they were left to their fate following the tragedy because they are ruled by an opposition mayor.

They say search and rescue teams were sent to the city too late, causing their loved ones to be trapped under the debris for days and die either due to a lack of timely medical attention or from freezing to death.

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