Germany faces Turkish ire after nine immigrants die in fire
LUDWIGSHAFEN – Germany came under pressure from Turkey Tuesday over an apartment building inferno that killed nine immigrants and forced a couple to throw their baby from a third-floor window to save her.
Ankara demanded an investigation to determine if the fire had been deliberately set, amid reports that two girls had seen a man starting the blaze in Ludwigshafen, southwestern Germany on Sunday.
The girls, both aged seven, claimed that the German-speaking man dropped pieces of burning paper into a pram in the foyer of the four-storey apartment building that housed a Turkish cultural association.
A senior prosecutor in Ludwigshafen, Lothar Liebig, described the girls' statements as “very significant” but said that it would take several days to establish the cause of the fire.
“We cannot exclude anything,” he told reporters, adding that in 2006 a Turkish cafe on the ground floor of the apartment building had been vandalised.
On that occasion, the attackers knocked out the windows and threw flares into the cafe, he said.
Turkey has insisted on sending its own investigators to Ludwigshafen to probe the cause of the blaze. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced fears that it could have been the result of a xenopobic attack.
Erdogan said all those who died — four adults and five children — were Turkish, as well as 20 of the 60 people injured in the fire.
“We are greatly concerned over the possibility of premeditation in the fire in which all the victims were Turks,” he said in a speech to Turkish lawmakers.
“Is the real reason behind this sad event xenophobia? We hope not.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “particularly upsetting that there are so many children among the victims.”
A press photograph, splashed on front pages around the world, showed a dark-haired baby tumbling through the air from the third floor to the ground where a policeman caught her in his arms unharmed.
The six-month-old baby girl, identified only as Onur, was reunited with her father, who also escaped the blaze unhurt. Her mother was still in hospital recovering from injuries, police said.
Germany's Bild newspaper published a photograph of two brothers called Kamil and Kenan, aged two and three, and said they were among those who had died in the flames.
A spokeswoman for German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Germany had “gladly” accepted a request from Turkey to send fire experts to Ludwigshafen to help some 50 local investigators working on the case.
Police on the scene said that the high risk of the gutted apartment building collapsing was complicating their task, but confirmed that they were probing the arson claims.
The mayor of Ludwigshafen has described the fire, which broke out amid carnival festivities here, as the worst in the city's post-war history.
It began on Sunday afternoon on the ground floor of the century-old apartment block and rapidly destroyed its wooden staircase, trapping 24 residents and twice as many visiting relatives and friends inside.
Ludwigshafen fire chief Peter Friedrich said panicked residents threw their children from windows and balconies before jumping to the ground themselves to escape the flames.
“The staircase is nothing but a pile of ashes. People were escaping through the windows before we even arrived at the scene. Adults jumped out of the windows and threw children out to save their lives.”
Interior Minister Schaeuble was in Turkey on Monday for talks on improving the often fraught process of integrating Germany's 2.5 million-strong Turkish immigrant community.
02/05/2008 18:36 GMT