[Marxism] Death Toll Mounts in Turkish Mine Disaster, and So Does Political Fallout
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 15 10:55:55 MDT 2014
NY Times, May 15 2014
Death Toll Mounts in Turkish Mine Disaster, and So Does Political Fallout
By SEBNEM ARSU and ALAN COWELL
SOMA, Turkey — As the death toll from Turkey’s worst mining accident
mounted, labor leaders on Thursday called for a one-day strike, and a
potentially embarrassing image said to show an aide to Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan kicking a protester deepened the political fallout
from the disaster.
Demonstrations had already broken out on Wednesday in Ankara, the
capital, and in Istanbul, as public displeasure surfaced over poor
safety standards at the mine and a lack of official information about
events since Tuesday, when an explosion ignited underground fires. On
Thursday, the police fired water cannons to disperse crowds of
demonstrators in the Aegean port city of Izmir, some 75 miles southwest
Rescue workers, meanwhile, struggled to locate scores of coal miners
still unaccounted for but officials said hopes for finding those still
trapped were fading. The official death toll increased overnight to 282
as eight more bodies were recovered, surpassing the grim tally from a
mine accident on the Black Sea in 1992 that killed 263 workers.
Such was the blend of outrage and grief among survivors and relatives
that Mr. Erdogan, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for
presidential elections in August, was forced to take refuge at a
supermarket during a visit to this town near the stricken mine on
Wednesday. Angry crowds called him a murderer and a thief and clashed
with the police, The Associated Press reported.
Compounding the political repercussions, the Turkish newspapers
Cumhuriyet, Milliyet and others on Thursday printed photographs that
they said were of an Erdogan aide kicking a protester who was on the
ground and being held by special police forces during the scuffles. The
papers identified the aide as Yusuf Yerkel.
While the images could not immediately be independently verified, they
soon reached a wide audience on Twitter and elsewhere, recalling earlier
disputes when the authorities have taken issue with social media sites.
Mr. Erdogan has called Twitter “the worst menace to society,” a tool of
foreign conspirators and a tax evader. In March, he ordered the site
blocked in Turkey, but a court ordered that it be switched back on. The
controversy arose from a graft inquiry targeting Mr. Erdogan and his
inner circle. Mr. Erdogan has purged thousands of police officers and
prosecutors, but that has not stopped a series of leaks of wiretapped
recordings relating to the case from appearing on social media sites
such as Twitter and YouTube.
Striking a more conciliatory tone at the mine on Thursday, President
Abdullah Gul told mourners and relatives, “The pain is everybody’s.” But
one person called out to him that the presence of his security detail
was itself obstructing rescue efforts, news reports said.
Public discontent has deepened as victims’ families demand answers about
what happened at the coal mine.
Men buried victims of the mine accident on Thursday in Soma, Turkey.
Credit Uriel Sinai for The New York Times
Five labor unions called for a one-day nationwide strike on Thursday,
demanding better health and safety standards for miners. They also said
that mine inspectors should be drawn from labor unions and that they
should include independent experts not employed by the mining
corporations. The mine at Soma was formerly state-owned but had been
leased to a private company, news reports said.
“Miners suffer long working hours, have no occupational safety or social
security, and when most of them are unregistered, they are part of an
unregistered economy,” said Umar Karatepe, a spokesman for the
Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.
Mr. Karatepe said the privatization of mines had led to a sharp increase
in accidents “because profit is always more valuable than miners’ lives
in the private sector.” He said protests would continue until the energy
minister, Taner Yildiz, resigned and the government attended to the
miners’ immediate concerns.
Many relatives of the miners have complained about a lack of information
from the government and from local emergency agencies. “No official came
here to talk to us, explain what’s going on,” the aunt of a 25-year-old
miner said on Wednesday.
The government’s emergency center said on Thursday that 217 of the 282
bodies recovered so far had been handed over to families for burial. The
funerals are likely to intensify the anger provoked by the disaster.
The number of people still trapped in the mine is unclear and rescue
efforts have been slowed because of the risk of gas explosions and
continuing fires underground, according to an official in the prime
minister’s office, who spoke on the condition anonymity under
On three occasions, the dangers forced the authorities to suspend
attempts to bring more bodies to the surface, the official said.
“Imagine the mine as a huge nest of coal, which is burning quietly and
can be put out only if pressurized water is pumped into all galleries,”
the official said.
The prime minister’s office estimated on Thursday that around 120 bodies
remained to be recovered, but some miners said that the figure could be
more than 200.
Sebnem Arsu reported from Soma, and Alan Cowell from London.
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