Turkey’s Erdogan replaces transport minister amid virus outbreak


Ankara (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan replaced Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan in an overnight decree on Saturday, as the country battles a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed 92 people in just over two weeks.

Adil Karaismailoglu has been appointed as the new minister, the decree published in the Official Gazette said. No details or reasons for the move were provided.

In a statement, the Transport Ministry said there was a handover ceremony from the old to the new minister in Ankara.

“We have very important projects ahead,” Karaismailoglu was cited as saying by the ministry. “We have visionary projects that will contribute to our country’s development and future. We will carry these out rapidly and together.”

The surprise change comes as Turkey rolls out a series of measures restricting international and intercity travel, after the number of coronavirus cases jumped by a third in a day to 5,698, with 92 dead.

Turhan and his ministry drew criticism this week for holding the first tender to prepare to build a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul amid the outbreak.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Turhan said Turkey had been less impacted by the virus than some other countries due to the timely measures it took.

“Of course, our ministry is one of the ministries in this country from which people expect projects, services from,” he was cited as saying. “During this period, it has operated and continued its activities domestically and internationally in line with the decisions of our Health Ministry and team of experts,” Turhan added.

“Thankfully, by implementing these measures we have not had major issues in our social or economic lives. As a ministry, we must implement our government’s decisions together and attempt to overcome this disaster with as little damage as possible.”

Turhan, a former head of Turkey’s Railroads Directorate and chief presidential adviser, was appointed minister by Erdogan on in July 2018 after Turkey’s switch to a new presidential system that granted the president sweeping executive powers.

Karaismailoglu, 50, was appointed deputy transport minister last year, after his resignation from the Istanbul Municipality following the election of the main opposition’s Ekrem Imamoglu as mayor.

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