Consecutive fires engulf two buildings in Germany inhabited by Turks, prompting the Turkish government to dispatch a team of experts and a minister to be part of the investigations
Turkish Daily News
Memories of the tragic “Solingen fire,” one of the deadliest racist assaults in Germany, resurfaced with the fires last Sunday and yesterday that engulfed buildings inhabited mainly by Turks and which have left at least nine people dead.
As the testimony of survivors and some evidence from the scene in the southwestern city of Lugwigshaven increased suspicion that acts of arson might have led to the fires, the Turkish government decided to send a team of experts headed by a minister to Germany.
“We will closely watch the results of the investigation. I hope that no act of xenophobia is involved,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday in Parliament. Erdoğan expressed concerns about a second “Solingen fire” in his meeting with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble late Monday. “He was a little concerned and promised me a thorough probe,” Erdoğan added.
After reaching an agreement with German officials, State Minister Said Yazıcıoğlu and four police officers were scheduled to depart for Germany and participate in the investigations, Erdoğan said. Erdoğan is also expected to visit the victims that survived the fires during his three-day trip to Germany starting Thursday.
Following the fire in Ludwigshaven Sunday afternoon that claimed the lives of nine Turks and injured 60 others, another building, again mainly inhabited by Turks, went up in flames yesterday in the western German city of Herne. No deaths were reported in the second fire.
Suspicion of xenophobia acts haunt investigation
The testimony of two sisters that survived the fire in Ludwigshaven ignited suspicion that an act of arson might have taken place. Aylin and Bedriye K. said they saw a “German” in the building and he was trying to hide a bottle behind his back, seemingly to start the fire. When asked who he was, the suspect reportedly replied “I am a German.” Aylin then asked the reason for his presence in the building, but he tried to slam the door in her face. “His face was white-like,” said Aylin. Ludwigshaven Mayor Eva Lohse, who described the fire as “the biggest after World War II” said the fire broke out after a parade passed in front of the building.
Eight victims were members of the same family. Dwellers were trapped inside the building when the wooden staircase collapsed, forcing many to jump out of windows. Among the wounded were 11 policemen and a fireman coming to the rescue. Police spokesman Michael Lindner said the danger of collapse prevented them from entering the building. “No other bodies were found,” he said. Police reported that there are no more missing people, and do not expect to find any other victims inside.
In the second fire in Herne, 16 people were poisoned by the smoke. German police is investigating the cause of the second fire, which started on the first floor just like the other one.
Top-level diplomat visits victims' families
Turkey's Ambassador to Berlin Mehmet Ali İrtemçelik offered his condolences to relatives of the victims, in a coffee shop that belongs to one of the dead. “Turkey will do whatever is necessary, we share your grief. What we face is a big disaster,” said İrtemçelik. He then went to Mevlana Mosque and met İrfan Dinç, the Berlin Embassy's religious services consul and president of the Religious Affairs Directorate's Turkish-Islamic Union. “I hope this is not an act of arson. I wish this was an accident. If this is an act of arson of course Turkish origins people here will worry,” Dinç told the Turkish Daily News in a telephone interview. He recalled the past acts of sabotage against the homes of people of Turkish origins in Germany. “When we look at all those fires, just like the fires in Mölln and Solingen, we see that buildings with wooden staircases are chosen. Fire starts from there, it's the same scenario,” said Dinç. He also praised the German police who worked hard to save children.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced that it expects Germany to conduct a thorough investigation, “taking every possibility into account,” and mete out punishment if the case involves arson.
Suspicions that a racist motive may have been the cause for the fire in the southwestern city of Ludwigshaven abounded as the building hosted a coffee house frequented by Turks and a Turkish association. The German Socialist Democratic Party's (SPD) President Kurt Beck had rejected allegations of any racist motive behind the incident and said there is no evidence that an act of xenophobia led to the outbreak of the fire.
Germany may get in trouble
Tayfun Çilingir, the president of the Rhein-Main Turkish Association and a member of the administrative board for Turkish German Associations said these latest developments irritated the Turkish society in Germany. “We are just waiting now. It is too early to speak certainly,” he said. However if the fire erupted due to an act of sabotage, Germany will have a lot to do, Çilingir said. “If it is an act of arson, it would play right into the hands of anti-foreigners because this would help those supporters of foreign enmity inadvertently,” Çilingir said.
Two other building fires occurred in other parts of Germany in Backnang and Recklingenhausen. German Police said the cause of those fires had not been determined yet. A police spokesman in Ludwigshaven admitted that they are appalled by a similar incident immediately following the fire Sunday.
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