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Iran's government criticized over earthquake response

Members of parliament and the Iranian public blame the government for a shortage of tents and attention given to survivors of two large earthquakes that killed 300 people. 

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"We will rebuild these areas before the start of the winter," Hassan Ghadami, an emergency management official in the Interior Ministry, told lawmakers on Monday, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported.

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The mud-brick construction of many village buildings was to blame for the wide destruction, he said.

"Relief forces were despatched in a normal and natural way and they were despatched to the affected areas quickly," Ghadami was quoted as saying by Iranian agencies.

Reza Sheibani, a Tabriz resident who owns a 24-hour pharmacy in Ahar, told Reuters by telephone that the government had acted well in deploying security forces to ensure public order in the panicked hours after the quakes.

Ahmadinejad abroad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left as planned on Monday morning for Saudi Arabia, where he is to attend a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expected to focus on the crisis in Syria.

But his overseas trip exposed him to criticism at home that he was not showing empathy with the disaster victims.

In an editorial titled "Mr. Ahmadinejad, where have you gone?" Asr-e Iran criticised his decision to leave the country with his closest advisers less than two days after the quakes.

"In every other part of the world, the tradition is that when natural disasters happen, leaders will change their plans and visit the affected areas in order to show their compassion ... and observe rescue efforts," Asr-e Iran wrote.

Tabriz residents and legislators also criticised state-run television's early coverage of the disaster, saying it did not reflect the extent of the damage in the first hours.

Minority backwater?

The lack of coverage, some said, contributed to a sense that the central government in Tehran did not care much about the people of northwest Iran, most of whom are Azeri Turks, the biggest ethnic minority in the country.

"Even though (on Saturday night) hundreds of people were under the rubble, on the television broadcasts ... there was no mention of the disaster," said Alireza Manadi Safidan, a legislator representing Tabriz, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

"[State television] was busy counting how many medals Iran won" in the Olympics, the doctor in Tabriz said. "They didn't have any reaction to this event."

Larijani said on Monday that state television ought to better reflect the country's sympathies for the earthquake victims, ICANA reported.

* Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Editing by Jon Hemming.

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