Istanbul apartment collapse death toll reaches 21 as MP blames tragedy on illegal construction ‘amnesty’

Residents of an eight-storey apartment block that collapsed in Istanbul last week were “killed”after an amnesty on illegal constructions was pushed through Parliament ahead of next month’s local elections, an opposition MP has claimed.

Garo Paylan, a Diyarbakır MP for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), accused the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Mehmet Özhaseki of ignoring concerns he said he raised last year during a debate on the plans.

It turns out that the building that collapsed in [the Istanbul district of] Kartal benefited from the zoning amnesty,” Mr Paylan wrote on Twitter last Friday, 8 February, two days after the tragedy struck.

It emerged that three extra floors had been added to the building illegally, which is thought to have contributed to its collapse. State prosecutors have launched an investigation.

The amnesty was put before Parliament by [the then minister] Mehmet Özhaseki,” Mr Paylan’s tweet continued.

“During the commission negotiations, I spent hours opposing it, saying that buildings should not be granted an amnesty without being inspected. The minister did not listen.

“The law was passed. Our citizens in Kartal were killed. Millions of citizens are waiting to die in an earthquake in flimsy, coffin buildings that have benefited from the zoning amnesty.”

Mr Paylan said he laid the “blame” for the disaster squarely on the AKP and Mr Özhaseki, who is the party’s mayoral candidate for Ankara.

On Saturday Turkish President and AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his condolences for the victims of the building collapse.

“We have a great number of lessons to learn from this,” he said on a visit to the site. “We will take the necessary measures.”

Mr Erdoğan also visited a hospital to meet survivors, before joining hundreds of mourners for a funeral service for nine members of the Alemdar family who died in the disaster.

We have nine losses. My elder brother, our siblings, our children are all gone,” Nedim Alemdar, 43, told the Associated Press news agency.

It was an old building, there were some noises . . . we could sense there was something wrong, but we didn’t think much of it,” he added.

The family members were said to have been living in three separate apartments.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu told reporters that the total number confirmed dead had risen to 21, with 14 injured.

We estimate that there were 35 people trapped under the rubble and we have now accounted for 35,”he said on Sunday.

Turkish authorities had said that 43 people were registered as living in 14 flats in the block, which was built in the 1990s.

Meanwhile work has begun to tear down an adjacent 10-storey building which was said to be “at risk”.

The block, called the ‘Yunus Apartment’, also had floors added illegally, Turkish media reports said.