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Refugee Boat Capsizes off Turkey, 60 Dead

At least 60 migrants, most of them Palestinian and more than half of them children, died after their overcrowded boat sank just tens of meters off Turkey’s western Aegean coast on Sept. 6, a district official said.

Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, Governor of the coastal district of Menderes in the western Izmir province, said an initial investigation showed the small vessel sank due to overcrowding around dawn.

Its destination was unclear, but the small Turkish town of Ahmetbeyli from where it left is only a few kilometers from the Greek island of Samos. Greece is a common entry point for migrants trying to get into the European Union.

“The latest death toll we have is 60 people, including 11 men, 18 women and 31 children, including three babies,” Kurtbeyoglu said by telephone. Turkish media said the reason the death toll was so high was because the women and children were in a locked compartment in the lower section of the vessel, although there was no official confirmation.

Kurtbeyoglu said 46 people had so far been rescued alive, including the ship’s Turkish captain and assistant, who were arrested. He said there were no bodies left on the boat and he did not expect the death toll to rise. Most of the migrants were Palestinian nationals, and the authorities were still trying to determine the nationality of the others, Kurtbeyoglu said. He said the survivors spoke Arabic and were of Middle Eastern origin.

Turkish media said there were also Syrians and Iraqis on the boat, although that could also not be confirmed. Television footage showed small boats and diving teams searching for survivors just off Ahmetbeyli. The boat sank less than 100 meters from the shore after leaving at around 02:30 GMT, officials said.

In another incident, 25 soldiers were killed and four lightly wounded in an explosion at a military arms depot in western Turkey. The blast occurred at a section of the military ammunition site in Afyon province where hand grenades were stored, the Turkish military announced in a statement posted on its website.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known, it said, but a government minister dismissed any deliberate act often attributed to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.) “This is most probably an accident,” Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroglu said in televised remarks. “This is certainly not an act of terrorism.”

(Sources: Reuters, AFP)

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