02/23/2005, 00.00

Quake survivors protest as they wait for aid

The quake killed at least 420 people injuring another 900. Caritas Iran is ready to bring assistance, but Tehran turns down foreign aid.

Teheran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of people spent the night in tents and temporary shelters after a 6.4 earthquake on the Richter scale struck south-eastern Iran near the city of Zarand (700 km from Tehran) killing at least 420 people and injuring another 900.

The slow pace of the rescue efforts has provoked protests. In the village of Islamabad about a hundred men blocked the road to intercept humanitarian aid.

A crowd of villagers on a high mountain road besieged a convoy of cars, one carrying Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, during a tour of affected areas.

The head of natural disaster services, Mohammad Javad Fadaie, minimised the incidents saying that there was no "fundamental problem" with the humanitarian and rescue work but conceded there was a lack of tents.

"Caritas is ready to intervene and is organising relief assistance for the population", Mgr Ignazio Bedini, Bishop of Ispahan—the Latin diocese of Iran—, told AsiaNews. "We are following events and are figuring out how to bring as much aid as our means and the authorities allow."
In last year's Bam quake, which killed 31,000 people injuring many more, Caritas Iran played a significant role.

Iranian authorities have declined offers of foreign assistance saying they were unnecessary. Kerman provincial governor Mohammad Ali Karimi said "we learnt from the Bam experience. We don't need foreign assistance".

Yesterday US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated the United States was willing to offer Iran help with the relief effort. Pakistan, Turkey and the United Nations also offered their assistance.

According to Governor Karimi the quake affected 40 villages, home to more than 30,000 people.

UNICEF's representative in Iran, Kari Egge said about 80,000 people had been affected, adding that the area is "at 1,800 metres. It's cold and it has been raining. There's no shelter, nowhere for people to stay". (LF)

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