Turkish prime minister visits site of German fire

7th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Erdogan seeks to calm tensions between Germany and Turkey.

Ludwigshafen, Germany -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday visited the scene of a fire in the German town of Ludwigshafen that left nine Turkish immigrants dead.

Erdogan placed a wreath outside the apartment house where the victims died and spent a few minutes inside the gutted building as a crowd of more than 1,000, most of them Turks, looked on.

The prime minister praised the emergency services for their efforts to rescue people trapped in the low-rent, four-storey building housing Turkish families.

"If it hadn't been for the enormous efforts of the police and the fire brigade, our pain would have been much greater," he said. "Our pain is immense, the pain of our nation is immense."

"It is our wish that the investigations are conducted very carefully and very quickly," said Erdogan, who visited Ludwigshafen at the start of a four-day visit to Germany.

Four Turkish experts are assisting the 50-member German team trying to find out whether the fire was the result of a technical defect or was started deliberately.

Arson fears were raised after two girls age 8 and 9 told investigators they saw a dark-haired man throwing a lighted stick into the entrance of the building.

"We have been in contact with the German authorities since the start. It needs to be found whether there was an attack, arson or sabotage," Erdogan said before leaving Ankara.

German Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Kurt Beck, who accompanied the premier at the scene, said the investigators would do everything they could to establish the cause of the fire.

Mustafa Yazicioglu, the Turkish minister responsible for the affairs of Turks abroad, placed a wreath outside the house on Wednesday, along with German Immigration Commissioner Maria Boehmer.

Some 60 people were injured in Sunday's blaze, which happened shortly after the end of a carnival parade.

A post-mortem on the victims, among them five children and a pregnant woman, showed eight had died from smoke inhalation. Another woman leaped to her death from an upper floor trying to escape the flames.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said Nazi symbols and the word "hate" were found daubed on the walls of the building, which has been sealed off by a wire fence since the fire.

Investigators entered the ruined apartment block for the first time on Wednesday. Sniffer dogs did not find any traces of petrol or other combustible agents that might have been brought into the building to start the fire deliberately, police said.

The Ludwigshafen fire brigade has been accused in the Turkish media of responding too slowly and there have been reports that firemen were attacked after the blaze.

Germany's semi-public national broadcaster ARD decided Thursday to pull a popular crime series film from its programme because it deals with a murder among the German-Turkish community in Ludwigshafen.

ARD spokesman Peter Boudgoust said the Tatort (Crime Scene) film would not be shown on Sunday evening "out of respect for those in mourning whose feelings we do not want to hurt."

DPA with Expatica

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