Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) faced mounting foreign criticism – and a wave of domestic unrest – on Wednesday for their handling of a mining disaster in the Turkish city of Soma, in which at least 274 people were killed just two weeks after Turkey’s AKP-dominated parliament blocked an opposition motion to investigate accidents in Soma’s mines. A picture of two government ministers pointedly ignoring an opposition speaker’s speech about unsafe working conditions has become something of a symbol for government indifference on the issue.
Anti-government protests have grown steadily since a power transformer blew up Tuesday, sparking a fire that killed hundreds by what is suspected to be carbon monoxide poisoning. A speech by Erdogan – in which he reached back to mining disasters in 1838 Britain and 1907 America to insist that mining disaster are common – did not dampen public anger.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has cited centuries-old examples to defend his government over its mining record…“I went back in British history. Some 204 people died there after a mine collapsed in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there,” Erdoğan said on a visit to the grieving town of Soma, while choosing not to elaborate on how accidents in 19th-century Britain might be applicable to Soma’s unfolding disaster. “Take America with all of its technology and everything … In 1907, 361 [miners died there],” he added. “These are usual things.”…“In 1942, 1,549 miners died in China due to a mixture of gas and coal,” Erdoğan said.
By Wednesday demonstrations had broken out across Turkey, to which security forces responded with tear gas and water cannons. Hurriyet Daily News assessed that “the heavy-handed response of the security forces against the initial protests in Soma might be a factor for the mourner-turned-protesters.” It also posted a photo of top Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel violently kicking a protestor who had been forced to the ground by two security officers, an act that Yerkel excused by noting that the man had among other things “insulted” Erdogan. Turkey expert Michael Koplow blasted the AKP’s response to the tragic incident.
As has so often been the case under the AKP and Prime Minister Erdoğan, the damage comes in the government’s response to events outside of its control and makes a bad situation that much worse…A serious and responsible government would only have one logical response under these circumstances. It would acknowledge a terrible mistake, apologize, vow to get to the bottom of what went wrong, and generally act in a contrite fashion. But as we all know by now, the AKP under Erdoğan neither acknowledges mistakes nor apologizes, and is never contrite about anything… The messaging is that since there have been mining disasters throughout history – and really, throughout history is the operative term here given the dates used – the Turkish government should be absolved of all blame for anything related to Soma…police and water cannons are already confronting protesters in the streets who are upset about the government’s response, and no doubt we will soon hear from Erdoğan or one of his lackeys about foreign plots, terrorists, the insidious workplace safety lobby, and how elections confer upon him and the government the right to do anything they please…The playbook is always the same – deny that the facts are the facts, blame someone else, and cite incorrect information or things that are laughably out of context in order to defend grossly objectionable behavior.
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