Yesterday, the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history claimed the lives of at least 282 coal miners (the death toll expected to rise). In his initial statement on the incident, which happened in the western town of Soma, Prime Minister Erdogan sparked outrage by claiming that explosions in mines happen all the time and that there wasn’t much the government could do about it. Michael Koplow explains why this “don’t blame us” attitude is getting Erdogan in such hot water:
As Erdoğan said in opening his press conference today, accidents happen. In this case, however, there is the extremely inconvenient fact that only two weeks ago, the AKP rejected a motion in the Grand National Assembly brought by the opposition CHP – and supported by the MHP and BDP – calling for an investigation into the legion of mine accidents in Soma.
In 2013, for instance, 4500 workplace accidents were reported in Soma mines alone. There is also this picture making the rounds of two AKP ministers chatting away two weeks ago during an opposition parliamentary speech about safety concerns in Soma coal mines. In other words, serious concerns were raised within the last month about this particular mine, the government chose to ignore them, and now has a terrible public relations disaster on its hands on top of the fact that 238 Turkish citizens are dead after an accident that might have been avoided had the government taken the warnings about Soma more seriously.
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 Bloomberg editors don’t make much of Erdogan’s excuse:
The history of coal mining in the U.S. shows what can be done. Mining disasters were once far more common in the U.S., as Erdogan noted, as well as in the U.K. No longer:
And it’s not just developed countries that have improved their mine-safety record and reduced the human cost of extracting coal. China’s coal industry averaged 6,151 deaths a year from 2000 to 2005, falling to a still-horrendous 1,049 last year. Much of that was due to reduced production and the closure of illegal mines as demand has fallen since the financial crisis; China remains in a far worse position than Turkey. Still, the Chinese government has acknowledged the problem and has been shutting down unsafe mines in response.
Karen Graham highlights some of Wednesday’s protests against Erdogan’s government:
Taksim Square’s Gezi Park, the site of anti-government protests a year ago, was shut down on Wednesday. The number of law enforcement officers in Istanbul’s historic square was increased as thousands of protesters were met with water cannons and pepper spray wielding police.
In the Turkish capital of Ankara, several protests were staged, including one where students from the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) tried to march on the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry to protest the deaths of the miners and unsafe work conditions. They too, were met with water cannons and tear gas. Other people staged sit-ins in neighborhoods housing diplomatic buildings.
When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Soma, rocks were thrown at police protecting the leader’s car as he passed through the crowds. The Prime Minister was booed after speaking about the mine, with the crowd chanting “Resign! Resign!” Reuters reported that at least 10 protesters were taken away by the police.