9 Turkish victims of fire in Germany are buried in Turkey

AP Photo IMS103, IMS104, IMS105


Associated Press Writer

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) -- Nine Turks who died in a fire in Germany were buried in Turkey on Monday and officials of both countries called for restraint after speculation that the blaze was a racially motivated attack.

Islamic preachers read prayers through loudspeakers as relatives of the victims wailed behind nine coffins draped with red-and-white Turkish flags and strewn with red roses at a cemetery in the southern city of Gaziantep. About 2,000 people attended the burial.

German authorities were still investigating the blaze, which killed five children and four adults on Feb. 3 in the southwest German city of Ludwigshafen. Two Turkish families lived in the building and all the victims were Turkish citizens. Their bodies were flown to Gaziantep on Sunday.

German police say there is no evidence to back up rumors that the fire was a racially motivated attack. Neo-Nazi graffiti near the door of a Turkish cultural center in the same building was unrelated to the fire, German authorities said.

Still, relatives of some of the victims suspected that hostility toward minorities might have played a role in the fire.

"There has been hostility toward Turks, the German government did not take it seriously," Karanfil Calar, mother of 31-year-old victim Hulya Kaplan, told reporters.

The mayor of Gaziantep, Asim Guzelbey, called for restraint, assuring the mourners that "German authorities were doing their best to shed light on the incident."

German Ambassador Eckart Cuntz expressed his condolences in a speech in Turkish during the funeral.

"This pain has united us," he said. "I know it is very difficult to overcome this grief, but let it be the start of better friendship and understanding between Turks and Germans."

Some members of the Turkish Cabinet and lawmakers also attended the funerals.

While many of the estimated 2.7 million Turks who live in Germany are fully integrated in society, many others speak German poorly and live in large Turkish-speaking communities that have little in common with the rest of the country.

In the days after the blaze, several Turkish newspapers drew carried stories drawing parallels to neo-Nazi attacks on immigrants in the 1990s and alleging that rescue workers failed to respond promptly.

The accusations brought renewed calls for increased integration for the nation's minorities.