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Turkey Arrests 24 Workers Over Istanbul Airport Protest

A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of 24 workers, including some leaders of labor unions, after they were detained in a mass crackdown over protests on working conditions at Istanbul’s giant new airport.

Hundreds of workers at the construction site of the new airport halted work on Friday to stage a demonstration in protest of the dangerous environment, where over a dozen work-related deaths were reported, as their employer rushes them to finish the airport on time for its opening next month.

The airport, which has yet to be officially named, is a key 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 unpaid wages, bedbugs in their accommodations, alleged violations of labor safety which led to deaths on the site to a lack of properly-organized transport to take them to and from the new airport close to the Black Sea.

Police initially detained more than 500 workers

Following the massive protest, security forces raided the workers’ living quarters early Saturday morning and detained over 500 workers, who were involved in the demonstration.

While most of the detainees were later released without charge, 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, the DHA news agency reported.

Insaat-Is Sendikasi, one of the construction labor unions that took part in the protest, announced on Twitter that among the 24 arrestees were a number of their directors, posting a video showing altercations between police and relatives of the arrested workers, along with the hashtag #DirenisTutuklanamaz (Resistance Cannot Be Arrested)

There had been uproar on social media over the initial detentions under hashtag #Koledegiliz (We Are Not Slaves).

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

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

The transport ministry had on Tuesday issued a statement blaming “marginal groups” for the 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 and their problems.

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

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