ISTANBUL: Turkey’s main airport stirred back to life on Wednesday and Greece’s under-fire prime minister issued a formal apology as the east Mediterranean neighbors faced the political fallout of a paralyzing blizzard. Public anger has been boiling over in both countries over officials’ seeming helplessness in the face of one of the heaviest snowstorms in years. Stranded passengers at Istanbul’s international airport – Europe’s busiest – chanted “we need a hotel” on the second day of a shutdown Tuesday that grounded flights spanning much of the world.
The Greek government woke up on Wednesday to newspaper headlines lamenting a “fiasco” and “mistakes that brought chaos” to the snowy streets of the capital Athens. “A government buried in snow,” Greece’s leftist Efsyn daily said. The problems at the Istanbul airport are a sensitive political issue for President Recep Erdogan ahead of an election due by mid-2023. Erdogan called the gleaming glass-and-steel structure the “pride of our country and example to the world” after making it one of the “mega-projects” of his two-decade rule.
But Erdogan’s critics had long questioned his decision to place the airport on a remote patch by the Black Sea that is exposed to fog and strong winds. Turkish opposition newspapers pointed out that two top ministers had to land at the old Ataturk Airport on their arrival from Ankara on Tuesday. The airport handled just a few flights on Tuesday. Images on social media showed Turkish anti-riot police arriving in large numbers to deal with reports of rising public anger and protests.
The airport said on Wednesday that “operations which were temporarily suspended due to adverse weather conditions have returned to normal”. It said 681 flights were planned for the day. Istanbul’s opposition Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu – seen by analysts as one of several leading politicians coveting Erdogan’s job – also apologized “to our citizens, who became victims” of the disruption. But he said Erdogan had picked a “risky” location for the airport because of weather. Radiant sunshine in Istanbul on Wednesday was helping efforts to clear the streets of up to 85 centimeters of snow. The city’s food delivery apps also resumed partial service after being down for two days.
‘There were mistakes’
The chaos and anger in Greece mostly revolved around the ring road around the capital Athens. The government was forced to call in the army to help dig out thousands of stranded drivers. Many abandoned their cars in snowdrifts and walked home on foot. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered his “personal and sincere apology” on Wednesday to those stranded in the snow. He said “lessons” would be drawn and pledged 2,000 euros ($2,300) to stranded motorists and 1,000 euros to train passengers stuck at a station north of Athens.
“There were mistakes that must be corrected,” Mitsotakis told his cabinet ministers in televised comments. “The snow may have come faster than meteorologists had forecast, but I won’t claim this as an excuse,” Mitsotakis said. Yet many major Athenian thoroughfares remained only partially open on Wednesday. A union representing staff of the greater Athens authority said there were not enough heavy machinery drivers to clear the streets. “Our staff inspect the damage on foot, but machinery (to repair power cables) cannot get through,” the state power provider’s union leader George Adamidis said.- AFP