Turkish PM's trip to disaster town ends in 'punch'
Published 17/05/2014 | 02:30
RECEP Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, punched a man in a supermarket after visiting his town to commiserate with the victims of the country's worst mining disaster, eyewitnesses said.
The filmed incident – which happened a day after an accident that claimed the lives of around 300 people – cast further doubt on the Turkish leader's judgment after the emergence of separate footage showing one of his aides kicking a protester in Soma on the same day.
Opposition politicians said Taner Kuruca, the victim, worked as a coal miner for the same company that owns the stricken mine.
Wednesday's episode happened after Mr Erdogan and several bodyguards had sought refuge in the Yesel Portakal supermarket in Soma, a few miles from the scene of the disaster, after a crowd of protesters had shouted abuse at him.
The Turkish leader – his face showing anger according to witnesses – apparently lashed out at Mr Kuruca in the belief that he was one of the protesters, said a woman who would only give her first name, Nazan.
"The guy was just shopping, he had no relationship to the demonstration," she said.
"I was standing three or four metres away, I saw it all clearly. The prime minister seemed very angry with the man and he was shouting something incoherent, which I couldn't understand.
"The man looked totally shocked at being punched. The blow was really hard. Afterwards, I saw Erdogan's bodyguards kicking him and another man really hard in the groin."
As Nazan (45) spoke outside the supermarket in Ataturk Street, Soma's main shopping thoroughfare, a group of men shouted "liar", "provocateur" and "don't misrepresent our country to others" at her.
Several employees of the supermarket claimed not to have seen the incident.
But another woman, Havva (34) confirmed the account and said she would no longer vote for Mr Erdogan, whom she had previously supported.
"I saw him raise his hand but I didn't see the punch landing," she said. "It was not appropriate behaviour for a prime minister. We are all feeling great sadness here and our hearts are breaking but rather than share our emotions, he behaves like this. It would have been better if he hadn't come."
Mr Kuruca told Turkey's Kanal D TV station that Mr Erdogan had struck him "involuntarily" and said he would not press charges.
But Erdal Semici, an official for the opposition National Movement Party, said he had been warned against speaking out by Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, which is said to be close to the mine's owners. (© Daily Telegraph, London)