Union Protesters Call for Safer Mines in Turkey

Trade unionists in Turkey have been holding nationwide protests in the aftermath of the country's worst mining disaster.  
 
Thousands took to the streets Thursday in cities across the country to protest Tuesday's mining disaster, with clashes breaking out in city of Izmir, close to Soma where the disaster happened.

Police used water cannon to break up the protest. Similar tactics were used against trade unionists demonstrating in Istanbul and Ankara.

In some of Turkey’s provincial cities, demonstrations ended more peacefully.

Trade union leaders claim the mining disaster highlights a wider problem with industrial safety in Turkey. In 2012, the United Nations' International Labor Organization ranked Turkey third worst in the world for worker deaths.

 Thursday’s protests came as the first victims of Tuesday’s mining disaster were buried. Rescue efforts are still continuing, but officials warn there is little hope of finding alive any of the remaining 100 or more miners still trapped underground.

Meanwhile, there is outrage after newspapers printed a picture of an aide to the prime minister kicking a man protesting the mine disaster who was being held on the ground by police.

The incident happened in Soma on Wednesday, during a visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is already under fire for appearing to be indifferent to Tuesday's coal mine blast in Soma that killed at least 282 people.

The prime minister had called mining accidents "ordinary things." He added, though, that the entire country is in pain and promised a thorough investigation.

A police water cannon is used against anti-government protesters in Soma, Turkey on May 16, 2014. /AP A police water cannon is used against anti-government protesters in Soma, Turkey on May 16, 2014. /AP

Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Soma Thursday and vowed to do whatever is necessary to prevent future mining disasters.

The government has been accused of rejecting a recent proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into mine accidents in the area where Tuesday's disaster took place, although officials say the Soma mine was subject to regular inspections, most recently in March.

The deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Faruk Logoglu, claims the government was made aware of the dangers at the Soma mine.

"We specifically asked for a parliamentary investigation into this particular mine that is the scene of this huge accident," said Logoglu. "But when we raised the issue in the parliament, unfortunately we didn't get the response we hoped to get."

Observers warn if protests and anger over the disaster continue to grow, they could harm Erdogan's prospects in August's presidential election, which he is widely expected to contest.

VOA News / May 17, 2014 08:36 KST