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Turkey offers economic support in earthquake zone

people react after a quake in antakya in hatay province, turkey
A family who lost their home comfort each other in Antakya in Hatay province

Turkey launched a temporary wage support scheme on Wednesday and banned layoffs in 10 cities to protect workers and businesses from the financial impact of the massive earthquake that hit the south of the country.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 6 killed more than 47,000 people in Turkey and Syria, damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings and left millions homeless.

In Turkey, 865,000 people are living in tents and 23,500 in containers, while 376,000 are in student dormitories and public guesthouses outside the earthquake zone, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Under the economic relief plan, employers whose workplaces were “heavily or moderately damaged” get wage support for workers whose hours had been cut, the country’s Official Gazette said on Wednesday.

A ban on layoffs was also introduced in 10 earthquake-hit provinces. Both moves appeared aimed at easing an exodus from a region which is home to 13 million people.

“People whose homes or businesses are damaged are now seeking jobs outside the disaster area,” economist Enver Erkan said. “It is also necessary to provide incentives to businesses who employ workers in the earthquake area.”

Business groups and economists have said rebuilding housing and infrastructure could cost Turkey up to $100 billion and shave one to two percentage points off growth this year.

Erdogan has promised swift reconstruction, although experts say it could be a recipe for another disaster if safety steps are sacrificed.

In power for two decades, Erdogan faces elections within four months. Even before the quake, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production.

Days after the quake, a Turkish official said the scale of the disaster posed “serious difficulties” for holding elections on time, but three officials said on Wednesday the government has turned against the idea of a postponement.

“It is very likely that an agreement will be reached on holding the election on June 18,” a government official said.

‘NO ONE ELSE’ TO FIND

In Antakya, one of Turkey’s worst affected cities, 25-year-old Syrian Mustafa Kazzaz said rescue teams had finished clearing the rubble of his building without finding the bodies of his father, brother and sister.

He had set up a tent between a collapsed building and another that appeared heavily damaged. “The work continued for 15 days,” he said. “They dug the whole building until nothing was left. They told me the work is done. There is no one else.”

On Tuesday night Antakya’s deserted city centre streets were only lit by car headlights and the red and blue lights of police and military vehicles.

In neighbouring Syria, where aid efforts have been hampered by a 12-year-old conflict, Al-Watan newspaper reported that an aid flight arrived from Norway in the first earthquake aid flown directly into Syria from Europe.

The United Nations said aid was also flown into Syria on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates and Iran, while trucks arrived from neighbouring Jordan and Iraq.

Turkey’s Internet authority blocked access to a popular online forum, Eksi Sozluk, two weeks after it briefly blocked access to Twitter, citing the spread of disinformation.

Turkish police last week arrested dozens of people accused of creating fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about the earthquake on social media.

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