Anger and public protest spread across Turkey on Thursday as family members in the city of Soma began burying the victims of the nation's worst ever mining disaster that has claimed the lives of more than 300 coal workers.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the main target of ire as his government has been blamed for repeatedly dismissing safety concerns in the nation's mining and fossil fuel industry. While visiting Soma on Wednesday, Erdoğan enraged the victims' families and much of the Turkish public by saying that coal disasters like this were "normal" and that the coal mining "profession has this in its destiny."
The nation's largest union called a national strike and declared in a statement: "Hundreds of our worker brothers in Soma have been left to die from the very start by being forced to work in brutal production processes in order to achieve maximum profits."
As The Guardian reports:
Protests over the mining deaths erupted in [Soma and other] Turkish cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Zonguldak.
Turkish trade unions held a one-day strike over safety standards in the mining industry. Security forces deployed tear gas and water canon against around 20,000 protesters in İzmir.
In Istanbul, a group chanted anti-government slogans and carried a large banner that read: "It's not an accident, it's murder." In Soma protesters chanted: "Soma's coal will burn the government" and "Tayyip the murderer".
Authorities said the disaster followed an explosion and a fire at a power distribution unit, and most deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
The government has said that 787 people were inside the coalmine at the time of the explosion and that 383 had been rescued, many with injuries. The explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, which probably raised the casualty toll.
Erdoğan's has not spoken publicy since his appearance in Soma on Wednesday backfired, with local reports showing the prime minister was forced to flee from an angry crowd in the city, seeking refuge in a nearby grocery store. In the chaos that ensued, some reports suggests that the prime minister actually threw a punch, though the video footage available does little to verify that claim.
However, in this series of explosive photographs captured on Wednesday, a top aid to the Prime Minister, Yusuf Yerkel, is seen kicking a protester held by Turkish special forces soldiers:
The images were causing a firestorm of public outrage aimed at the government. According to Turkish media, the aide kicked the man three or four times during the incident.