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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkey’s interior minister to stay after he offered to resign over an abrupt weekend lockdown that sent tens of thousands of people spilling into the streets, raising the risk of a new wave of virus infections.
“The resignation of the minister was not accepted, he will continue his duty,” the president’s office said in a statement on Sunday. It praised Suyleman Soylu for his fight against terrorism and efforts in the aftermath of earthquakes and the coronavirus outbreak.
Soylu offered to resign earlier in the day, saying he took full responsibility for how the lockdown was executed. “I ask for forgiveness from my dear nation, whom I never wanted to harm, and my dear president, whom I will be loyal to until the end of my life,” he said via Twitter.
The minister came under severe criticism after the government issued a two-hour warning late Friday that a two-day lockdown would be enforced in 31 cities including Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. That caused a sudden end to weeks of social distancing measures as Turks flocked to buy groceries. Pictures and videos of people standing outside stores in closely packed lines were posted on social media — some showed fights breaking out.
There is a “scary possibility of infection,” said Tevfik Ozlu, a member of Turkey’s Science Board, which advises the government on coronavirus measures. The negative impact of the incident will be seen in “a week to 10 days,” he said in a televised interview.
‘Panic and Confusion’
The opposition blamed the government for taking such an abrupt decision.
“Curfews to combat the pandemic should not be imposed so hastily,” Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said. The municipality “was not informed of the sudden 48-hour curfew in Istanbul and was left unsure as to which services will be provided tomorrow. Decisions taken unilaterally only serve to create more panic and confusion.”
Soylu had been a prominent cabinet minister who was often criticized for heavy-handed policies against critics of the government as well as the country’s pro-Kurdish politicians.
This lockdown is the most stringent move Turkey has made so far to contain the spread of the disease. While authorities have gradually increased restrictions on people’s mobility since the first case was reported a month ago, they had avoided imposing the kind of strict measures seen in other parts of the world.
Turkey reported 97 new coronavirus fatalities Sunday, bringing the death toll from the outbreak to 1,198.
The country had 4,789 new cases, a 9.2% increase from 52,167 the previous day, according to data published by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, bringing the total to 56,956.
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