Turkey mine disaster: aide to PM pictured kicking protester

Harriet Sherwood — Guardian.co.uk May 16, 2014

Yusuf Yerkel kicks a protester. Click to enlarge

His face contorted in anger, a man in a suit and tie takes aim for a running kick at a protester pinned to the ground by two soldiers.

Yusef Yerkel, an aide to the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was photographed making the violent assault during a visit to the town of Soma, the scene of the country’s worst ever mining disaster. He kicked the man three or four times, according to Turkish media.

The image of Yerkel – a former PhD student at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies – caused a furious response on social media and could fuel anti-government protests in the aftermath of the mining accident. He later promised that an explanation of the incident would be delivered in a statement on Thursday.

The incident happened on Wednesday as Erdoğan was jostled by a large angry crowd as he tried to enter a building. Amid jeers, whistling and chanting, security aides were forced to hold back protesters to allow a visibly shaken Erdoğan to pass.

As the prime minister was forced to take refuge in a supermarket, demonstrators kicked his car and attacked his party’s local headquarters.

The prime minister’s office distanced itself from the incident, with one official saying the issue was Yerkel’s “own personal matter.”

Yusuf Yerkel reportedly kicked the protester a number of times. Click to enlarge

Erdoğan’s speech during a visit to the mine was widely seen to be grossly insensitive. He said accidents were not unusual in the history of mining, citing incidents in 19th-century Britain.

The photographs and video show the mounting level of anger in the country over the mine accident and the government’s response. Protesters were reportedly kept away from Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gül, who visited Soma on Thursday, although the BBC reported some heckling.

Protests erupted in other Turkish cities including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Zonguldak. Turkish trade unions were holding a one-day strike over safety standards in the mining industry. Security forces deployed teargas and water cannon against around 20,000 protesters in Izmir.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people attended the first funerals of victims of the mine disaster. The death toll stood at 282 by noon on Thursday, with more than 100 miners still trapped underground.

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