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  • 16 May 2014, 12:50

Turkey's PM Accused Of Punching Protester

Turkey's Prime Minister has been accused of punching a demonstrator, as fresh images sparked new claims of violence against protesters angry over the government's handling of the Soma mine disaster.

Amateurvideo shot during Mr Erdogan'svisit to the site of the mining disaster appears to show two of his bodyguards punching an anti-government protester.

The footage was taken after the prime minister was forced to take refuge in a grocery store as he was jeered while walking through a hostile crowd in the mining town on Wednesday. His car was then mobbed by protesters calling for his resignation.

And Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Lutfu Turkkan claimed he had spoken to a man who Mr Erdogan allegedly punched, saying his name was Taner Kuruca.

Mr Turkkan wrote on his Twitter page: "I spoke to Kuruca. The man said he was shopping at the store when Erdogan attacked him, thinking that he was a protester.

"He said that he was also beaten by Erdogan's bodyguards. Kuruca told me the only thing that he clearly remembers was that Erdogan assaulted him."

Other reports said eyewitnesses had suggested a man chanting slogans critical of Mr Erdogan was pursued into the store by the PM, who grabbed the man and punched him two or three times.

The allegations come as the Turkish government said the death toll was unlikely to exceed 302, although critics have previously cast doubt on official accounts following the disaster.

Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildizsaid a maximum of 18 people were still inside the mine.

A total of 284 people are known to have died, with more bodies expected to be pulled from the mine in the coming hours.

The operator of the mine said there was no negligence on the part of the company and that it still did not know the exact cause of the accident.

Akin Celik, the plant manager of the mine, run by Soma Holding, said: "We still do not know how the accident happened. There is no negligence of ours in this incident. We all worked heart and soul."

Separate images had previously emerged showing Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to the prime minister, kicking a demonstrator as he is held on the ground by police officers during the visit.

Mr Yerkel released a statement on the attack which read: "I am sad I was not able to maintain my composure despite all the provocations, the insults and attacks to which I was exposed."

The images have fuelled public anger over the government's handling of the disaster, with many accusing political leaders of not demonstrating enough compassion.

The government is also accused of failing to address safety concerns within Turkey's mining industry. Just two weeks ago the ruling AK party rejected an opposition attempt to launch an inquiry into the safety standards at mines in Soma.

The PM has rejected the allegations, saying such accidents are not uncommon and happen in other countries. He highlighted cases in 19th century Britain.

"These types of things in mines happen all the time," he said.

"It's in its nature. It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines. Of course we were deeply pained by the extent here."

Thousands of protesters clashed with riot police in several Turkish cities for a second day on Thursday.

Police fired water cannon at tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital Ankara and in the western city of Izmir.

Turkey's four biggest unions also held a one-day strike, alleging that workers' lives were put at risk by cost cuts.

In a joint statement, they said:"Hundreds of our workers have been left to die from the very beginning by being forced to work in cruel production processes to achieve maximum profits."

Relatives in Soma, meanwhile, began to bury those killed in the disaster as emergency workers battled toxic fumes in their frantic search for those still missing.

The last survivor was pulled from the mine on Wednesday.

Those still trapped are thought to be some 1.2 miles (2km) below the surface and 2.5 miles (4km) from the mine entrance.

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