[Marxism] Death Toll Mounts in Turkish Mine Disaster, and So Does Political Fallout

Louis Proyect 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


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 
of here.

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 
departmental rules.

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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