LALE – Turkey faces spreading unrest after Soma mine disaster

Turkey faces spreading unrest after Soma mine disasterThe tragic and catastrophic accident that took place on Tuesday at a mine in the Soma coalfields in southwestern Turkey, killing close to 300 coal miners, could have been averted or caused fewer deaths if strict safety regulations had been in place.Mining accidents have become more common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions.A report by a Turkish think tank revealed the grave state of workplace safety in Turkey’s mining industry: Turkey sees the highest number of deaths in mining accidents per 1 million tons of coal extracted, according to a 2010 report from the Economic Policies Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).According to the report, quoted by Today’s Zaman on Wednesday, the number of deaths per 1 million tons of coal mined in Turkey was 7.22 in 2008, more than five times the figure for China (1.27) and 361 times the figure for the US (0.02).Turkey has had the world’s highest number of deadly mine accidents over the past several years, ahead of China, according to data from the International Labour Organization (ILO).Over the past 31 years, 14 mining accidents occurred in Turkey, with the latest in Soma being Turkey’s deadliest mine disaster ever.Mines are not the only workplaces in Turkey where deadly accidents occur, and thousands have died in such accidents in recent years. Workplace accidents have been on the rise as a result of the government’s aggressive and obsessive privatization policies, which are coupled with neither good governance nor a drive to meet internationally recognized labor-safety standards.On the night of the coal mine catastrophe, Professor Gunduz kten from Istanbul Technical University told news channel NTV that Turkey comes first in the number of workplace accidents in Europe and third in the world in this category.EIitim Sen, a Turkish union, said yesterday in Ankara that over 12,000 workers died as a result of workplace accidents in the past 12 years of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.As one researcher rightly put it, the increasingly close connections between privatized industry and a neoliberal government in Turkey have had a highly noxious effect on worker safety.In “Turkey coalmine disaster: accident or murder?” published by ROARMAG.org on May 14, Istanbul Bilgi University’s Pieter Verstraete said that the Soma disaster that killed hundreds was not a random accident, but the direct consequence of a decade of neoliberalization.“Soma, a district with a population of around 100,000 citizens, is a significant centre for lignite coal mining with its own lignite-fired thermal power plant. Turkey still has rich supplies of hard coal and low-grade lignite resources, which are extracted for domestic power generation. Earlier this month, on May 3, in the Daily Sabah, the Energy Minister boasted that Turkey was investing $118 billion by 2023 to meet the country’s doubling energy consumption. And, not much earlier, it was noted that Turkey’s position in world energy markets is rapidly increasing. The leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) has complemented these energy investments with privatization, deregulation and wage reductions in order to keep Turkey’s mines profitable and attractive to Western capital. As part of this strategy, costs are reduced by loosening safety procedures, creating ‘flexible’ work conditions, lowering the standards for training, and subcontracting unskilled or even unregistered under-age workers.”Closing, as usual, its ears to criticism, the government has opted to blame others for the Soma disaster, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan made remarks minimizing the importance of Turkey’s deadliest-ever coal mining accident.He said on Wednesday in Soma that accidents, which are part of the nature of the coal mining industry, can happen, while his riot police, elsewhere in Turkey, quelled the Soma protests with water cannons and tear gas.ErdoIan, however, had to seek shelter in a supermarket in the town of Soma — which he visited to express his condolences to the relatives of the victims of the accident — to escape the anger of the very people he was trying to console. They blamed his government for not doing enough to prevent Turkey’s deadliest-ever mining accident.ErdoIan’s style has become increasingly authoritarian since last summer’s Gezi Park protests. He has been taking draconian measures to silence the Turkish opposition, which has been calling for a fair and independent investigation into the high-profile corruption and graft scandal that hit the agenda on Dec. 17 of last year.The government is now resorting to the same strict methods to suppress those protesting the Soma disaster in an attempt to evade the grave consequences of the accident.Yesterday in Ankara, riot police with megaphones announced to protesters at Middle East Technical University (ODTu) a three-day period of national mourning, marked by half-staff flags, for the miners who were killed, and said they should observe the period of mourning instead of staging protests. Hence, the government is trying to use the three-day mourning period to keep protests in check.In the meantime — and not surprisingly — none of the relevant Cabinet ministers have resigned or taken any responsibility for this grave and tragic accident.I am afraid Turkey is moving toward widespread street protests that could lead to serious chaos in the country, while the government’s legitimacy has become increasingly questionable.

SOURCE: Today Zaman

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