Turkish PM Erdoğan defends gov’t response to Soma disaster
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks during a ceremony organized by the Turkish International Development Agency (TİKA) in Ankara, May 19.Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has displayed defiance in his first public address, days after he and his inner circle hit a raw nerve during a visit to the scene of a disastrous coal mine accident, the county’s worst ever industrial accident.
“What have they said from the beginning? They said ‘The boss is pro-AK Party.’ [the ruling Justice and Development Party or AKP]. I saw him for the first time there on that day,” Erdoğan said, referring to Alp Gürkan, chairman of Soma Holding.
Soma Holding owns the coal mine where the disaster stuck and Gürkan was among the welcoming delegation during his visit to the western Anatolian town of Soma in Manisa on May 14, a day after the tragedy.
Those who claim there is a relationship between him and Gürkan are “slanderers,” Erdoğan said.
“My nation knows these slanderers in this country.”
Erdoğan’s remarks came as he attended the ceremony “Same Signature in Same Geographies,” for the launching of several projects finalized by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA).
As of May 17, the energy and natural resources minister put the death toll at 301, as rescue workers retrieved the bodies of the last two miners missing in the disaster. He said 485 miners escaped or were rescued.
The prime minister slammed claims suggesting his government made benefits available to the owners of the coal mine because they were his supporters.
Compared to Erdoğan’s previous aggressive responses, his harsh rhetoric regarding the issue was slightly toned down yesterday, the day which marks the beginning of Turkey’s War of Independence. May 19 was originally celebrated as the Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day. All celebrations were cancelled due to the tragedy in Soma, which has been shaking the entire country for days.
Still, Erdoğan hinted Parliament will be the venue for his actual response to criticism over his and his ruling AKP government’s response to the disaster.
“Tomorrow [May 20], God willing, during our party’s group meeting, we will discuss tackling this deplorable disaster with all of its aspects and we will share with our nation the efforts that we have exerted for healing the wounds [of the mourners],” Erdoğan said.
Every Tuesday, the leaders of the parties represented at Parliament address regular parliamentary group meetings for their parties.
Erdoğan’s opponents blame the government for privatizing leases at previously state-controlled mines, turning them over to politically connected businessmen who they say may have skimped on safety to maximize profit.
His ruling AKP said the formerly state-run mine at Soma, 480 km southwest of Istanbul, had been inspected 11 times over the past five years. It denied any suggestions of loopholes in mining safety regulations.
Erdoğan said Turkey is powerful enough to help both Soma and Somalia, responding to criticism that his government had failed to provide timely help to the disaster-struck Soma, despite promoting its assistance to Africa as a great success.
“There have been ruthless and non-conscientious statements saying ‘Leave Somalia, look at Soma.’ I will not put stress on these criticisms while our grievances are fresh and our hearts are still bleeding, but I have to say this one thing: With God’s permission and our nation’s support, we have reached out to Soma. We have healed wounds there at once, we have been healing and we will continue to help them heal. However, now, we are also a country capable of reaching out to Somalia, too.”