Turkey mine clashes pile pressure on Erdogan

Turkey mine clashes pile pressure on Erdogan

SOMA, Turkey - Turkish police clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters angered by the deaths of at least 283 workers in the country's worst mining disaster, piling pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the western city of Izmir, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Soma, which was hit hard by Tuesday's mine explosion, police fired tear gas and water cannon at around 20,000 protesters on Thursday.

Turkey's four biggest unions held a one-day strike, saying workers' lives were being jeopardised to cut costs, and demanding those responsible for the collapse of the coal mine be brought to account.

"Hundreds of our workers have been left to die from the very beginning by being forced to work in cruel production processes to achieve maximum profits," they said in a joint statement, calling on people to wear black.

Anger at the disaster has swept across Turkey, where mine explosions and cave-ins are a frequent occurrence.

In Izmir, the 61-year-old head of one of the main unions Kani Beko was hospitalised after violent clashes with riot police.

In Ankara, police fired tear gas and water cannon on around 200 protesters accusing the government and mining industry of negligence.

'Such accidents happen'

Erdogan has rejected claims of government culpability, saying that "such accidents happen".

He compared the collapse to 19th-century mining disasters, saying that "204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864", in an apparent attempt to downplay its severity.

Erdogan was forced to take refuge in a shop after a furious reaction from relatives of the victims and the missing, some of whom began kicking his vehicle.

Photographs of his advisor Yusuf Erkel kicking a protester in Soma sparked outrage on social media.

Defending his actions, Erkel told Hurriyet newspaper: "He attacked and insulted me as well as the prime minister. Should I have stayed silent?"

At a protest in central Istanbul on Thursday near the city's emblematic Taksim square, the site of weeks of violent anti-government protests last year, angry demonstrators held the country's leaders responsible for the disaster.

"We're not being told the truth about the number of those who died or are trapped," 20-year-old Sinan Cikar lamented. "If necessary precautions had been taken such an accident would never have happened."

Another young protester took issue with Erdogan's mention of 19th-century mining disasters. "But we live in 2014," he said.

 

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