SOMA, Turkey: Turkish riot police fired tear gas Friday at thousands of protesters at the scene of a disaster that killed nearly 300 miners, as the government faced a worsening political backlash.
Police used tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans in the western town of Soma, where at least 284 people died in a blast at a coal mine this week
Some protesters hurled stones at the police, according to reporters on the ground. At least five people including two police were wounded and there were reports of some arrests.
The mine tragedy, Turkey’s worst ever industrial accident, has sparked a wave of fury against the government ahead of August presidential elections which the embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been tipped to win.
Erdogan has denied any government culpability in the face of opposition lawmakers’ claims that they raised concerns over safety at the Soma mine in parliament just weeks before the disaster.
But his comment that mining accidents are in “the nature of the business” have sparked furious accusations of indifference to the victims’ plight.
With the government warning that the toll from the blast would likely top 300, Erdogan faced fresh criticism after video emerged of him apparently shouting an anti-Israel slur at angry protesters during a visit Wednesday to the disaster site.
“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper that AFP has not been able to authenticate.
Erdogan was booed when he visited the disaster site and had to take refuge in a shop from an angry crowd shouting “prime minister, resign!”.
The premier, known for his outbursts of anger, was accused of hitting a relative of one of the dead miners during the visit —a charge that circulated widely in opposition media despite being denied by his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Photographs of Erdogan aide Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester also sparked outrage on social media. Yerkel later apologised, saying he was “not able to keep my calm in the face of all provocations, insults and attacks”.
Mine explosions and cave-ins are a frequent occurrence in Turkey, but Tuesday’s disaster — one of the deadliest in modern history — has given fresh impetus to public anger against the government after a corruption scandal implicating Erdogan’s family and key allies.
Images of police firing tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir have also revived memories of nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.
Mine operator Soma Komur yesterday vehemently denied any allegations of negligence.
“There is no negligence on our part,” the company’s general director Akin Celik told reporters at a press conference.AFP