Iran accepts foreign aid for quake victims

Aug. 14, 2012 at 2:30 AM
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TABRIZ, Iran, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Iran is ready to accept foreign aid for 17,000 earthquake survivors in the country's northwest, a vice president said, after Iran earlier refused help.

"In different situations, our country has helped those in need in other countries, and under the current conditions, [Iran] is ready to receive aid ... from different countries," Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying in provincial capital Tabriz Monday night, about 30 miles from the epicenter of Saturday's double earthquake near the Azerbaijani border.

Iran earlier refused outside help from the United States, Germany, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, saying it could handle the disaster that killed at least 306 people and injured more than 3,000 alone.

But the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sharply criticized by local opposition lawmakers alleging a poor government response to the disaster in the remote rural and mountainous area.

Members of Parliament from affected areas complained about a shortage of tents and other supplies, the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency reported. Iran's Parliament is known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

Ahmadinejad was criticized for going ahead with a trip Monday to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting on the Syrian crisis that was to begin Tuesday.

The normally supportive conservative newspaper Asr-e Iran published an editorial Monday titled "Mr. Ahmadinejad, where have you gone?"

"In every other part of the world, the tradition is that when a natural disaster or an unexpected event occurs, the leaders of those countries at the very least change their plans and visit the stricken areas to show compassion, demonstrate that the people's suffering is of government concern ... and observe rescue efforts."

The newspaper questioned if Ahmadinejad's "pilgrimage" to Mecca was more important than the people in Iran's earthquake-stricken East Azerbaijan province.

Iran earlier Monday rejected 15 tons of food, tents and heating equipment from Turkey, the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency reported.

The two countries are on opposite sides in the Syrian crisis, with Iran supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Turkey supporting the opposition Free Syrian Army.

Iran Monday provided flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil and pasta along with blankets and tents to the quake-ravaged area in Iran's Turkish-speaking Azeri region, IRNA said.

Now that Iran is accepting aid, the Turkish Red Crescent, which had been forced to return to the Turkish side of the countries' common border, would begin bringing its aid supplies to a customs office in Iran's West Azerbaijan province city of Bazargan, bordering Turkey, IRNA said. Bazargan is a key import-export city.

In Washington, the White House -- which sent a message of sympathy to the quake victims and said, "We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time" -- did not immediately say if it was asked to provide aid.

Washington and Tehran are locked in a bitter fight over Iran's disputed nuclear program, which the West alleges is designed to produce weapons, while Iran claims it is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The two quakes, with magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.3, struck the province 11 minutes apart Saturday afternoon, with villages near the copper-mining city of Varzaqan hit especially hard.

Many mud brick houses collapsed in the quakes, trapping people inside, many of them women and children, officials said.

The quakes were felt in neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan,

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