Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a survivor speak as he visits the city center destroyed by Monday earthquake in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Istanbul: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday the government would take action against those involved in looting and other crimes in the region hit by this week's devastating earthquakes as the issue of security there came into focus.

"We've declared a state of emergency," he said during a visit to the disaster zone. "It means that, from now on, the people who are involved in looting or kidnapping should know that the state's firm hand is on their backs," he said.

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On Friday he said there had been looting in some areas. It was not clear what incidents of kidnapping Erdogan was referring to.

The security in the quake zone has come into focus after the Austrian army suspended rescue operations there due to what its spokesperson called "an increasingly difficult security situation".

Erdogan also said that hundreds of thousands of buildings were uninhabitable across southern Turkey and that authorities would soon start the rebuilding process.

"We've planned to rebuild hundreds of thousands buildings," he said. "We will start taking concrete steps within a few weeks." The death toll in Turkey has risen to 21,043, he added.