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What to Do for Turkey

To help northwest Turkey recover from Tuesday's devastating earthquake, many nations and private groups are rushing in equipment and other aid, from sniffer dogs to helicopters. The jolt - 7.4 on the Richter scale - was 10 to 15 times as powerful as the 1994 quake in Los Angeles. That's a wallop for any nation to endure.

We're impressed with this outpouring of compassion for the millions of survivors. It seems the world is learning how to respond faster and better to massive disasters.

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But let's hope the world also understands that putting Turkey back together again means much more than giving it short-term relief.

The North Anatolian geological fault, one of the most studied in the world, has had seven major quakes since 1939. This latest one comes as no surprise. Now is the time to prepare for the next one.

But Turkey has a democracy crippled by corruption, bitter Byzantine politics, and an Army that seems unable to stop meddling in state affairs (three coups since 1960). Hundreds if not thousands of people might have been saved on Tuesday if the nation's cowboy contractors had not been not allowed to get away with shoddy work.

Turkey and California both have tough building codes. But in Turkey, a corrupt government lets builders and engineers skimp on concrete and metal rods, or put up buildings in unsafe areas without quake-resistant designs. The makeshift huts in urban slums are called gecekondus, which means "built in a night." Many Turks died in those huts.

Turkey prides itself on the political reforms of its modernizing founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, over seven decades ago. The pity is that the political elite has failed Turkey's poor masses - some 63 million people. And the Army prefers tactics of repression in a drive against corrupt politicians, Islamic radicals, and Kurdish rebels.

Voters are turning to Islamic parties or to just not voting, even though it's compulsory. And the West has largely tolerated Turkey's political mess because the country was a key cold-war ally and is now pivotal to America's Middle East strategy. Recently, Turkey and Israel formed a loose military alliance that keeps the anti-Israel Islamic states off-balance.

Turks are rightly angry at building contractors and most especially at their government. This tragedy can serve as a jolt for political reform.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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