SOMA, Turkey - Turkish riot police on Friday fired tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets at thousands of protesters in the town of Soma, scene of the country's deadliest industrial disaster. Around 10,000 protesters chanted anti-government slogans as they demonstrated in the town.
Meanwhile, Turkey's prime minister shouted an anti-Israel slur as he was mobbed by angry protesters at the site of a deadly mine blast this week, local media reported Friday.
"Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?" Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper, using an expression considered a curse in Turkish. In the footage that could not be authenticated, Erdogan is seen surrounded by angry protesters shouting and whistling at him as he visited the tragedy-hit town of Soma on Wednesday a day after the blast.
Some local media claimed Erdogan hit the protester in the commotion, but this was not clearly visible on the video, and was denied by the deputy chairman of his ruling party, Huseyin Celik.
The controversial new footage comes after photographs of Erdogan's advisor Yusuf Erkel violently kicking a protester in Soma went viral on social media, sparking global outrage. "I am sorry as I was not able to keep my calm in the face of all provocations, insults and attacks I was subjected to," Yerkel told local media.
Celik said Friday that Yerkel had been attacked and wounded by the protester and had been signed off sick for seven days by a doctor Erdogan's government is under mounting pressure to contain fallout from the mine catastrophe that killed nearly 300 miners in the worst industrial accident in the country's history.
Israel has offered to help in the search for miners feared trapped after the blast and President Shimon Peres sent his condolences to his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.
Relations between Israel and Turkey have been strained since a 2010 Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of aid ships left nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists dead.
Last month, Erdogan said he was prepared to normalise ties with the Jewish state after counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu apologised for the deadly raid, in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.
Turkey's most popular leader, who has dominated politics for 11 years, is known for his angry outbursts at the Jewish state.
A staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, he has often blasted Israel over its bloody military assaults on the Gaza Strip, making him a popular figure on the Arab street.
Last year, Erdogan raised eyebrows when he compared Zionism to facism and anti-Semitism.