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Outrage in Turkey as Erdogan Aide Kicks Protester

Yusuf Yerkel photographed kicking man protesting mine disaster as soldiers hold him down, Turkish public incensed.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 5/15/2014, 7:27 PM

Yusuf Yerkel kicks protester
Yusuf Yerkel kicks protester
Reuters

A photograph of one of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's aides physically abusing citizens protesting the recent mining disaster has Turkey in an uproar.

In response to the huge explosion and fire which rocked a mine near Soma starting Tuesday, killing at least 282 people and leaving another 120 missing, thousands of Turks on Wednesday protested against the government, holding it responsible for negligence.

Yusuf Yerkel, one of Erdogan's advisers, was caught on camera kicking a protester in Soma in Thursday, a day after the disaster at the town, reports Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.

In the photo, Yerkel's face appears to be twisted in rage, and another several of the photographs show him raising his leg back to wind up for as powerful a kick as he can muster. Two Turkish soldiers were holding the man down on the ground at the time, and witnesses reported that Yerkel got in three to four kicks.

Witnesses added that the soldiers were interrogating the protester after he alleged kicked a car that was part of Erdogan's convoy. Reportedly, Yerkel was about to sit in the car assigned to him when he saw the incident, and proceeded to run at the man and kick him repeatedly.

Yerkel has ignited a widespread protest with his attack, as the photographs were shared widely on social media and led to more protests on Wednesday evening. Yerkel has acknowledged that he kicked the man, and said he would soon make a public statement.

The incident came after Erdogan appeared in the town flanked by bodyguards, where he was met by boos and calls for his resignation. Erdogan has been embroiled lately in corruption charges against his inner circle, as well as accusations that he is turning Turkey into a police state with new laws granting the intelligence agency greater powers and cracking down on whistleblowers.

Erdogan reportedly had to take shelter in a supermarket with his bodyguards, after protesters surrounded his convoy just minutes after he spoke. The protesters later destroyed the local district office of AKP, Erdogan's political party.

In his speech, Erdogan enraged mourners by insisting "explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It's not like these don't happen elsewhere in the world."

“This was not an accident, it happened because not enough is ever done to protect workers,” said Ercan Akkaya, a union organizer and a researcher in political science at Istanbul’s Bogazici University told NBC News. “The government is complicit in these deaths, in our tragedy. Since 2006, almost 11,000 workers in Turkey have died while doing their jobs."