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article imageAnger as Turkey jails 24 over Istanbul airport protests

By Stuart WILLIAMS (AFP)     Sep 19, 2018 in World

Turkish activists and the opposition on Monday expressed outrage after a court jailed 24 workers ahead of a trial over their actions in protests against labour conditions at Istanbul's giant new airport.

Activists said that the authorities should be listening to the workers' grievances rather than jailing them as work continues at breakneck speed to ensure the facility is finished on time.

Hundreds of employees from the airport were rounded up at the weekend after reportedly protesting and striking over alleged labour violations during the rush to open the airport next month.

Most of those detained were released without charge but 43 appeared before a judge at a court in the Istanbul district of Gaziosmanpasa late Tuesday.

Of them, 24 were remanded in custody while 19 were allowed to go free under judicial control after an overnight court session, the DHA news agency reported.

The figures were confirmed by construction labour union Insaat Is-Sendikasi on its Twitter account. There had been uproar on social media over the initial detentions under the hashtag #Koledegiliz (we are not slaves).

- 'Intimidation' -

Those under arrest were presented with charges including damaging public property, violating demonstration laws and defying police orders, DHA added.

"This is an appalling assault on the right to protest and organise and on the dignity of workers in Turkey," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director for Human Rights Watch, on Twitter.

Istanbul's giant new airport is due to open officially on October 29 and target an annual capac...
Istanbul's giant new airport is due to open officially on October 29 and target an annual capacity of 90 million passengers, rising to 250 million when completed
Aris MESSINIS, AFP/File

Activists led by senior lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which takes a leftist stance on economic issues, staged a protest outside the Metris jail in Istanbul where those arrested are being held.

HDP MP Serpil Kemalbay said the detentions were a "form of intimidation" of workers who were exercising their right to protest.

She said the minister of labour should have gone to the airport in person to talk to the workers but instead "armoured vehicles and gendarmerie led a siege there".

The airport is a $10 billion project championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make Istanbul a global travel hub and turn flag carrier Turkish Airlines into an aviation giant.

But workers at the airport have made complaints ranging from alleged violations of labour safety which led to dozens of deaths on the site to a lack of properly-organised transport to take them to and from the new airport close to the Black Sea.

"My nephew was arrested there. They were in the rain and waiting for buses that didn't arrive," said Ahmet Yildirim outside the prison.

- 'Without delay' -

Some 36,000 people are working at the site as the clock ticks to the official opening on October 29 and a complete shift of flights from Ataturk International Airport which is then to be immediately closed.

It is targeting a 90 million passenger annual capacity after opening, rising to 250 million when all facilities are completed.

Despite the imminent opening it has yet to be named -- with speculation that it could be named again after Ataturk, a sultan like the reactionary late Ottoman era leader Abdulhamid II or even Erdogan himself.

The Turkish authorities have in recent years moved quickly to clamp down on any sign of nascent protest movements, after being caught off guard in summer 2013 when small rallies opposing the redevelopment of Istanbul's Gezi Park turned into a nationwide uprising.

The transport ministry on Tuesday issued a statement blaming "marginal groups" for the airport protests and insisting that the official opening was still scheduled for October 29.

It said IGA -- the Turkish consortium building the new airport -- had talked to workers to discuss their demands.

"Measures were taken without any delay. The works are continuing," the ministry added.

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