Top of the Morning: Turkey Quake; Air Strikes in Somalia; Aid Workers Abudcted in Algeria; Tunisia Elections

Top Stories from today’s Development and Aid Workers News Service–DAWNS Digest. Sign up to receive the full digest of global humanitarian news delivered directly to your inbox every morning.

Death Toll Climbs in Turkey Quake

At least 264 people have been killed in a massive earthquake that struck eastern Turkey on Sunday. The earthquake’s epicenter was near the city of Van with casualties particularly high near the city of Ecris which is located by the Iranian border. The government warned that the death toll could reach into the thousands. Search and rescue is underway, and dozens of countries have offered assistance. “At least 970 buildings collapsed in the 7.2 magnitude quake that struck a region near the Iranian border yesterday, about 1,300 kilometers (700 miles) east of Istanbul, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said. A thousand may have died, officials said. Aftershocks of as much as 6.0 rattled the area as staff at damaged hospitals treated the wounded and the homeless sought shelter in tents as temperatures neared zero. ‘Tens of people are being constantly removed from the rubble, we don’t know what condition they are in,’ Atilla Bakir, who’s house suffered cracks in Ercis, the worst-hit town of the region. He said the central part of Ercis was completely destroyed and there was a shortage of tents. ‘We slept in our cars last night because we are scared of another earthquake.’ In Van, an impoverished city of 1 million people straddling a lake and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, television pictures showed a collapsed apartment block where rescue workers were using a crane and drills to reach survivors. At least 169 of the dead were in Ercis, on the other side of the Van lake, where 90 buildings including a school dormitory collapsed. As many as 4,000 homes in the area may be damaged. Some hospital wings weakened by the tremor were closed as a precaution, Health Minister Recep Akdag told reporters in Van.” (Bloomberg

Is the United States Providing Air Support to Kenyan Troops on the Move In Somalia? France?

There seems to be some confusion and/or secrecy surrounding who, exactly, is bombing Al Shabaab targets ahead of advancing Kenyan troops. “A Kenyan military spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said that “one of the partners,” possibly the United States or France, had been behind airstrikes in the past few days, killing a number of Shabab militants. The French Navy has also shelled rebel positions from the sea, the Kenyan military said in a statement. Two senior American officials in Washington said Sunday that neither the United States military nor the Central Intelligence Agency had carried out airstrikes in Somalia in recent days. One of the officials, who follows American military operations closely, said the Kenyan offensive had forced many Shabab fighters and commanders to disperse, making them easier potential targets, but emphasized that there had been ‘no U.S. military strikes in Somalia at all recently.’ American officials in Kenya declined to comment. A French diplomat in the United States did not return phone calls.” (NYT

Three Aid Workers Abducted in Algeria

Yet another abduction of international aid workers: Two Spaniards and one Italian were kidnapped from a refugee camp near Tindouf in western Algeria and are believed to have been taken over the border to Mali. “[Authorities] said the kidnappers had crossed borders of neighbouring Mali, using four-wheel drive vehicles and arms, and that one hostage and a Sahrawi security guard were wounded in fire exchange during the attack. Spain’s foreign ministry identified the two workers as Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon from a pro-Sahrawi organisation in Extremadura, western Spain, and Enric Gonyalons from Majorca who was working with Basque non-profit group Mundubat. Meanwhile, the Italian foreign ministry identified its worker as Rossella Urru from the Rome-based Comitato Italiano Sviluppo dei Popoli group.” (Reuters

Smooth Sailing in Tunisia’s Historic Election

Reports describe a “euphoric” mood in Tunisia as the first elections of the Arab awakening era are fully underway. “Tunisians are casting their ballots for a 217-member Constituent Assembly, a body that will draft a new constitution and appoint a new caretaker government. As the first elections of the Arab Spring, analysts believe today’s vote will be a test of the country and the region’s ability to transform popular protests into concrete democratic change. There are about 80 political parties, plus a number of independents, contesting in these first democratic elections.The moderate Islamist Nahda party is by far the largest of these; estimates based on public polling have put its expected share of the vote at between 25 and 50 percent. Other parties expected to claim between five and 15 percent of votes include the secular Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), the Democratic Federation for Labor and Liberty (Ettakatol), the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Modern Democratic Pole (PDM), among others. It is difficult to predict exactly what the results will look like beyond these estimates however, not least because 40 percent of voters were undecided when the most recent poll was conducted in September.” (CSM