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Daily News Analysis

Will mine blasts affect Erdogan’s political fortunes?

Crescent International

Will the latest mining disaster in Turkey affect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political future adversely? Some observers feel he is losing touch with popular sentiment by the manner in which he has issued statements in the wake of this latest disaster.

Washington DC, Crescent-online
Monday, Wednesday 19, 2014, 10:37 DST

The deadly explosion and fire in a Turkish coalmine on May 14 that killed 267 miners has aroused deep public anger. The mine is located in the town of Soma, approximately 120 miles northeast from the coastal city of Izmir.

A three-day mourning period has been declared but has done little to dampen the anger and anguish of those that lost loved ones. Some have described the incident as “murder”, accusing the mining authorities of failing to provide adequate safety measures despite repeated warnings.

Around 363 miners have been rescued so far and 80 are injured. Turkey’s disaster management agency has said that more than 200 miners could still be trapped inside.

According to officials, the incident occurred due to fire in a power distribution unit. Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said most of the deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

This is the worst mining disaster in the country’s history, notwithstanding the history of accidents caused by the failure of various businesses and industries to implement adequate safety measures since denationalization of mines in 2005.

Prior to the Soma disaster, the worst incident was the death of 263, the result of gas explosion at a mine in Zonguldak province, an area with large coal reserves on the Black Sea coast.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited the mine site amid angry protests from Turks against inadequate safety measures. Turkish police on Wednesday fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters in the capital Ankara, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

Police intervened when between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters took to Ankara's downtown Kizilay square to protest the deaths.

Erdogan’s government has done little to ease concerns about the conditions in Turkey’s mines. Following an accident in 2010 Karadon explosion, he said miners were “quite used to events like these.” “This profession has this in its destiny. The workers get into the profession knowing that these kinds of incidents may occur,” Erdogan said.

The latest incident is seen by some as another example of Erdogan’s loss of touch with popular sentiment in the country. Increasingly, the Turkish population feels that Erdogan has grown distant and obsessed with power, departing from the principles of his campaigns to maintain his political survival and the status quo dominated by industrial oligarchs and a NATO-affiliated military.

His unpopular war in Syria, his heavy-handed response to Gazi Square protests in Istanbul last year, and the corruption scandal, all point to an administration proceeding on thin ice.

Erdogan’s response to the mining disaster may prove a critical test of leadership for the survival of the AKP party in Turkey.


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