Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday refused to accept the resignation of his interior minister over an abrupt nationwide lockdown that triggered a spate of panic-buying.
Suleyman Soylu came in for fierce criticism after the 48-hour shutdown to counter the spread of the coronavirus was announced on Friday night with just two hours’ notice.
The declaration sent thousands flocking to markets and bakeries in defiance of social distancing rules.
Roads in Istanbul and Ankara were also packed, with long queues forming outside off-licences, grocery stores and banks.
Reacting to the chaotic scenes on Friday, Soylu said the lockdown had been on the “instructions” of the president.
But on Sunday the powerful 50-year-old interior minister accepted “entire responsibility for the implementation of this measure”, which he said had been carried out “in good faith”.
Erdogan however refused to accept Soylu’s resignation. “He is going to continue to carry out his functions,” he added.
Soylu took up the interior ministry portfolio in August 2016, a month after a bloody failed coup attempt against Erdogan.
The government had come under harsh criticism from the opposition and on social media for the chaotic implementation of the lockdown, accusing the authorities of endangering the lives of thousands of people.
Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition party, who had previously called for a lockdown, was also critical of the short notice and complained of not being informed in advance.
After the initial chaos, the shutdown, which ended at midnight (2100 GMT) on Sunday, was generally respected.
Turkey has nearly 57,000 COVID-19 infections and around 1,200 have died, according to the latest health ministry figures.
Three Turkish prisoners have died from the coronavirus, Turkey’s justice minister said Monday as he announced the first cases of convicts diagnosed with the disease.
A total of 17 convicts in five open prisons have contracted the virus, Abdulhamit Gul told reporters in Ankara.
“Three of them unfortunately died during their treatment in hospital,” he said.
Some convicts are sent to open prisons towards the end of their sentences to serve out the remainder of their punishment as the state prepares them for release.
They are given permission to leave for temporary periods and must accept work, according to the Civil Society in Penal System Association.
Thirteen of the sick convicts are in a good condition in hospital, Gul said, but one prisoner with chronic diseases remains in intensive care.
He did not give any further details on where the prisoners were but insisted the necessary precautions had been taken in every jail.
“There are no positive cases in closed prisons,” he added.
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