Turkey Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Shrugs Off Mine Disaster: "These Things Happen"

SOMA, TURKEY - MAY 14: Miners rest as they await their trapped friends on May 14, 2014 in Soma, Turkey. Rescuers pulled more dead and injured from the coal mine in western Turkey on Wednesday more than 19 hours after the explosion, bringing the death toll to 238 in what could become the nation's worst ever mining disaster. Hundreds more are still believed to be trapped in the mine. (Photo by Ahmet Sik/Getty Images)
Source: Ahmet Sik/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Fueling rage about the government's poor handling of the Turkish mine disaster, photos on social media circulated early Thursday showing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's aide kicking a protestor in Soma — the site of Tuesday's fatal mine accident. Predictably, more demonstrations have since erupted, and trade unions have called a one-day strike to protest mine safety. The mining disaster is the worst in the country's history, claiming at least 282 lives and leaving 150 miners still missing.

The Turkish government has made quite a few missteps recently (think gay-only jails, banning Twitter and YouTube, scary medical bills) but this week's may be its most insensitive, ever. In response to Tuesday's fatal mining disaster, during which an explosion caused the pit to collapse with 787 miners trapped underground, Erdogan nonchalantly pointed out that "these things happen." Whatcha gonna do, eh?

"These types of things in mines happen all the time,” he said to reporters Wednesday. "It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines.”

As might be expected, though, the Turkish people aren't too happy with that logic; on Thursday, several Turkish unions called a strike to protest mining conditions. "Hundreds of our worker brothers in Soma have been left to die from the very start by being forced to work in brutal production processes in order to achieve maximum profits. We call on the working class, labourers and friends of labourers to stand up for our brothers in Soma," Turkey's four main labour unions said in a joint statement, according to Hurriyet news. 

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Making matters worse, pictures started circulating on the Twittersphere Thursday showing one of Erdogan's top advisers, Yusuf Yerkel, delivering a brutal kick to a protester being held down by two police officers in Soma. Although details around the assault are still murky, Yerkel has since admitted to the attack, and is due to present a statement later today.

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As might have been expected, more protests have since broken out across the country, with over 20,000 people marching in Izmi Thursday, calling for the government to do something about mining safety. Already, reports have emerged of police using tear gas and water cannons to quell the masses, prompting Amnesty International to call "on Turkish officials to respect its citizens’ basic human rights to freedom of expression and assembly."

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Maybe the human rights group should also have added: don't personally attack the protestors.

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