WATCH ABOVE: As outrage over Turkey’s worst mining disaster grows, the prime minister has been accused of slapping a protester and one his aides was caught on camera attacking a mourner. Stuart Greer reports.
TORONTO – An adviser to Turkey’s prime minister has acknowledged that he is the individual seen in widely circulated images that show a man kicking a protester being held by special police forces.
In a telephone interview with BBC Thursday, Yusuf Yerkel did not elaborate on details but said he would release an official statement on the incident that occurred in Soma “as soon as possible.”
According to media reports, witnesses say “two soldiers were holding down and interrogating a protester after he kicked an official car belonging to the convoy of the prime minister when Yerkel ran at the man and kicked him ‘three or four times’.”
Media reports cite the protester as a “mourner” in the town where hundreds of mine workers were killed in a deadly explosion Tuesday.
Photos of the incident quickly went viral and sparked outrage on social media Wednesday.
Some say, however, the media attention over the attack has taken attention away from the tragic coal mine explosion.
The prime minister’s office on Thursday distanced itself from the incident, said The Associated Press, with one official saying the issue was “his own personnel matter.”
The official, who was not authorized to give his name to the press without authorization, confirmed there was a “melee” as Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered a building, but denied Turkish media reports that he had thrown a punch.
READ MORE: Turkish coal mine deaths rise to 282
Erdogan was visiting the western Turkish mining town of Soma after Turkey’s worst mining accident. Anti-government protests are taking place around the country as rescue teams work to reach about 150 other miners still trapped following the explosion and ongoing fire.
Hundreds of people have been attending funerals for some of the 282 victims.
Although 363 were rescued, no miner has been brought out alive since Wednesday afternoon.
– with files from The Associated Press