George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
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The Times-Friendship grows from quakes as Turks repay Greek help

The Times, 9 September 1999

Friendship grows from quakes as Turks repay Greek help

Rescuers refuse to give up hope

FROM James Pringle IN ATHENS 

TURKISH volunteer relief workers put national animosities with Greece behind them yesterday and dug in the ruins of a factory on the northern outskirts of Athens. It was an extension of the "earthquake diplomacy" that followed the more severe quake in Turkey nearly three weeks ago.

"We believe that there are three people still alive in there," Hakan Akgalar, 28, a computer programmer from Istanbul, said as he paused for a brief rest from his work with the Akut search-and-rescue team. "It's good to be here in Greece, but bad that it is for such a sad occasion."

Priests said prayers as Greek, French, Swiss and Turkish rescue workers attacked the rubble over what had been the accounts department of the Ricomex factory in a valley 12 miles north of central Athens. Fifteen people were working there at the time of Tuesday's quake.

Every so often rescue workers called for silence as they listened for voices from beneath the rubble. After-shocks also caused momentary halts. What remains of the factory is precariously poised.

"This is difficult work," Lieutenant-Colonel Nichola Studer, of the French Securit? Civile, said. "The whole building could collapse at any time."

Elsewhere in Athens, a boy aged ten was pulled to safety through a tunnel bored into rubble. Overnight, a two-year-old boy had been rescued from his collapsed home, where his grandfather had died shielding the child with his own body, in the northern suburb of Metamorphosi.

Government figures put the known death toll at 64 last night, with 60 people missing. More than 2,000 were treated for injuries, of whom 25 were in a critical condition.

About 2,000 workers, backed by foreign experts with trained dogs, were searching for the missing in 35 collapsed buildings.

Three weeks ago Greece offered Turkey, its ancient foe, relief help after an earthquake there claimed more than 15,000 lives.

Although the Greek quake was on a much smaller scale - 5.9 compared with 7.5 on the Richter scale - the coincidence of its timing has permitted an extension of the earthquake diplomacy.

Emre Agun, 23, a chemistry student and one of the 20-member Turkish team, said that everyone had been "very friendly" despite the long history of animosity between the two Mediterranean peoples. "I wanted very much to come to Greece to repay a debt of gratitude to the Greeks who helped us after our own earthquake last month."

Tulya Sezer, 25, another member of the rescue team, said: "Our peoples have nothing to fight each other about. There are just small groups in both countries that try to inflame the situation while everyone else wants to see friendly relations between Greece and Turkey."

Talks between Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministry officials are due to resume today on topics such as tourism, economic relations, the environment, culture and multilateral co-operation including security, counter-terrorism and illegal immigration. The idea is that working groups should consider all those matters at their own pace.

Thousands of Athenians spent yesterday in parks or open-air coffee shops or in tents set up near their homes as after-shocks continued. Greek seismologists said that there had been two severe after-shocks as well as 700 minor tremors.

The risk of strong after-shocks was expected to continue for at least 24 hours and perhaps 48 hours.

A tour of some of the 20 sites devastated by the earthquake indicated that the fault line in the Earth's surface here wriggles like a serpent across northern Athens. In some streets single blocks of flats have collapsed. Others escaped nearly unscathed as they were just off the fault line.

The newspaper Kathimerina said that it hoped that the thaw in Greek-Turkish relations would not be brief: "The tectonic plates of the Aegean continental shelf, which we want to divide with complicated legal boundaries, have their own primordial logic, and sometimes they express it with the violence that marks the forces of nature.

"Yet it is a shame that our peoples feel close to each other only in times of great misfortune and disaster."

James Pringle

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