Erdoğan allegedly punches man in Soma, aide kicks mourner

Erdoğan allegedly punches man in Soma, aide kicks mourner

Soma locals protest Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday. (Photo: DHA)

May 15, 2014, Thursday/ 12:51:54/ GÜLTEN ÜSTÜNTAĞ / ALİ ASLAN KILIÇ | ANKARA
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan allegedly punched a young man several times in Soma on Wednesday, after a large crowd angrily protested the recent mining disaster in which an explosion and fire killed at least 283 mineworkers.

Many people in the crowd protested Erdoğan's presence, shouting that he is a “murderer” and a “thief,” reportedly forcing the prime minister to take shelter in a grocery store. However, some reports claim that Erdoğan entered the store not to avoid the protests but rather to follow -- and subsequently punch -- a young man who had shouted at him outside the store.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Lütfü Türkkan has claimed that he has spoken to the man who Erdoğan punched, saying that the young man's name is Taner Kuruca.

Sharing the details of the conversation via micro blogging site Twitter, Türkkan wrote: “I spoke to Kuruca. The man said that he was shopping at the store when Erdoğan attacked him, thinking that he was a protester. He said that he was also beaten by Erdoğan's bodyguards.. Kuruca told me that only thing that he clearly remembers was that Erdoğan assaulted him."

Reports allege that the young man, wearing a blue t-shirt, chanted slogans critical of Erdoğan and then entered the store. Erdoğan then followed the protester inside, grabbed the man and then punched him two or three times, according to eyewitness reports.

The owner of the store corroborated the reports, saying that he saw surveillance camera footage showing that Erdoğan was punching a man, adding, "The bodyguards took away the footage and suggested that I not mention the issue."
A video of the incident shared on the popular video-sharing platform YouTube shows Erdoğan telling the protester, “Come next to me and boo me,” before walking up to the one man into the store then. At one point during the video Erdoğan grabs the protestor and punches him.

In the video footage, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Interior Minister Efkan Ala are seen entering the store after Erdoğan and attempting to calm him down. Erdoğan's anger and nervousness can be seen on his face as he leaves the store.

Erdoğan was also caught on camera making an anti-Israel slur against a local who protested the prime minister during his visit to Soma.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the coal mine waiting for news, with a heavy police presence. Many women wept uncontrollably, men knelt sobbing while others just stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed a steady stream of bodies throughout the night and early morning.

After the incident Erdoğan's bodyguards are alleged to take footage from surveillance cameras which may have recorded the incident.

A number of people showed strong reactions to Erdoğan's visit. Rocks were thrown at the police, who clamped down strongly on the protesters. Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital during Erdoğan's visit.

Opposition parties in Parliament strongly criticized Erdoğan over the alleged incident.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Haluk Koç described Erdoğan's behavior as shameful; "Erdoğan's hate speech knows no limits and he has gone so far as to resort to violence against a citizen. The government's irresponsible acts have turned into cruelty against citizens. It was clear that Erdoğan's continued insulting discourse would result in violence. How can we think of Erdoğan as a human after this violent act? He now turned out to be a symbol of hatred."

Commenting on the violent act, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairwoman Ruhsar Demirel said that people are mourning the victims of the tragic mine disaster and all of us feel deep sorrow. "Given the atmosphere, I hope the video footage turns out not to be authentic. There is no place for such a burst of anger. No matter what your position is, even a prime minister, all criticism should be listened to and considered in silence. Politicians should show respect to citizens' criticisms and reactions. I hope that the footage of the incident is not real,” Demirel said.

President Abdullah Gül also faced protests in Soma while visiting the mine. Relatives of mineworkers who lost their lives chanted, “Return the bodies to us” and “We don't want you.” Some relatives of workers are heard shouting at Gül to leave the scene, saying that the rescue teams cannot work properly due to Gül's visit, adding, “We are in need of rescue teams. We do not need for police or you. Go away!”

An adviser of Erdoğan kicked a mourner

In addition to Erdoğan, an aide of his also engaged in violence, this time against a mourner whose family members had been killed in the mine disaster. Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sparked further anger after being photographed kicking a mourner in Soma.

CHP deputy parliamentary group chairman Akif Hamzaçebi submitted a question to Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler concerning Yusuf Yerkel, who was seen kicking a protesting mourner who was being held on the ground by two soldiers, and asked for an explanation for the violent act.

In his parliamentary question, Tanrıkulu also asked why Yerkel had gone to Soma and questioned whether he was officially assigned in Soma or he just accompanied to Erdoğan and whether necessary steps by the government to punish Yerkel would be taken over the coming days.
Yerkel refused to apologize and resign, expressing only "sadness" over the incident. He tried to justify his action by saying that he was subject to "provocations, attacks and insults" throughout the day.

Savaş Genç, an academic at Fatih University, said that Yerkel attended his lectures for four years as an undergraduate and that he knew him well as a student, adding, “I am saddened to hear what Yerkel did to someone else. The photograph showing him kicking a mourner does not befit him. I cannot understand how a respectful student transformed into such a person. The prime minister's hate discourse has led his inner circle to act in this way. The image showing Yerkel hitting someone is unacceptable.”

Slamming Erdoğan's hate rhetoric and polarizing stance in his speech and behavior, Genç accused Erdoğan of being responsible for such violent acts by pushing high-ranking officials, as well as certain parts of society, to adopt a hostile approach against those who criticize the government.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, CHP deputy and former academic Metin Lütfi Baydar condemned Yerkel for his behavior to a protestor who was reacting to the death of so many miners, saying: “Yerkel's actions are unacceptable. How can you explain this violence to the Turkish people? How can society deal with such an insulting act while all of society is mourning the worst mining tragedy in Turkey's history?"

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) university in London has said that Yusuf Yerkel was enrolled in a graduate program at SOAS between 2010-2011 but withdrew from his studies. He has had no association since with SOAS.

The Guardian daily has also reported the issue, saying, "The pressure on Erdoğan has been made more intense by a widely circulated photograph appearing to show one of his advisers kicking a protester in Soma. In the unconfirmed photograph a man resembling Yusuf Yerkel is seen about to kick a protester who had been wrestled to street by two soldiers."
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