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Two journalists killed in second earthquake

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 14 Nov. 2011 - Two Turkish journalists died last week in eastern Turkey when their hotel collapsed in the region's second major earthquake in the past month.

Cem Emir and Sebahattin Yılmaz, both of Turkey's Doğan News Agency (DHA), had been reported missing after a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Van on Wednesday night. Their bodies were discovered late Friday night and early Saturday morning, respectively, in the rubble of the Bayram Hotel, where the pair had been staying, Turkish media reported.

Mr. Emir and Mr. Yılmaz were covering the aftermath of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked Van on 23 October and left more than 600 dead. After following up on developments in the government's rescue efforts during the day on Wednesday, the two returned to the hotel around 20:30 and were filing reports for DHA when the latest quake occurred, the International Press Institute (IPI) learned from its Turkish National Committee.

International media outlets have reported that at least 38 people lost their lives as a result of Wednesday's tremors, including 10 individuals caught inside the hotel.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said, "We send our deepest condolences to the families of Mr. Emir and Mr. Yılmaz. Their deaths are a tragic reminder of the constant dangers facing working journalists around the world."

Ferai Tınç, IPI Executive Board Member and IPI Turkish Committee Chair, added, "We cannot bury our grief and call the Van earthquake and the Bayram hotel ruins 'destiny'. While being aware that the earthquake possibility is high in Van, the reason that necessary precautions could not be taken is a lack of an environment of press freedom, which encourages naked truth."

Indeed, the hotel's collapse has added fuel to the fire of critics who say that Turkey's infrastructure is woefully inadequate to handle seismic activity. The country sits atop the intersection of several active fault lines.

The owner of the hotel, Aslan Bayram, told the media that inspectors who visited after the 23 October quake had declared his property safe, AFP reported. But photos taken shortly thereafter and published in major Turkish newspapers showed deep cracks in the hotel's walls.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday that his government would investigate and warned citizens against entering damaged buildings, citing the risk of aftershocks.

The government's perceived sluggish response to both quakes has exacerbated tensions with the region's Kurdish population. On Thursday, protesters outside the Bayram Hotel demanding the resignation of the provincial governor were met by riot police, according to CNN. Mr. Erdoğan later called the demonstrators 'saboteurs' for allegedly slowing relief efforts.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, supports this statement.

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