Turkey: Tekel workers brutally attacked by police

Prime Minister Erdogan denounces workers’ attempt to demonstrate

Thousands of workers from Turkey’s former Turkey’s alcohol and tobacco monopoly, or Tekel, travelling to Ankara, on 1 April, to continue their protests against their sacking, found their buses stopped by police before they could enter the city. The workers, arriving from all over Turkey, were told to leave the vehicles. But this did not stop them. They walked or took trains to ensure their protest could take place.

In the centre of Ankara, the police brutally attacked the workers, with demonstrators beaten with sticks. Pepper spray was used widely by the police to disperse the demonstrations. Confronted with a huge number of police and under physical attack, the workers shouted: "Shoulder to shoulder, against fascism!" and "We will not be stopped!" One women protester shouted, "This is our struggle and we will continue it!” Demonstrators helped each other when under police attack, sharing their water to counter the effects of the pepper spray. The workers were determined to continue their protests. Trade unions, like DISK and KESK, supported the Tekel workers and to give solidarity.

Like a "military coup"

The police called the protest “illegal”. The governor of Ankara accused the workers of having Molotov cocktails in their possession and called the people of Ankara to “protect themselves”. Prime Minister Erdogan was quoted as saying, “Who are they [about the Tekel workers]? They are overshadowing the current positive developments in the country.” He went on, “The growth rate in the last quarter is six percent. We should focus on this. We can’t allow illegal actions.”

Kumlu, the leader of the trade union confederation, Turk Is, compared the situation in the streets of Ankara with a military coup and a state of emergency.

Today’s experience for the Tekel workers is similar to last December, when the workers went to Ankara, for the first time, to protest against the closure of their tobacco factories. Just like last December, the brutal actions of the police seem only to strengthen the will of the workers to fight back.

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April 2010