Turkey police fire tear gas at Istanbul protests over workers' death

Demonstrators stand behind pictures of victims who died in previous work accidents, in protest of Saturday's accident which killed ten workers at a construction site, in central Istanbul Sept 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Demonstrators stand behind pictures of victims who died in previous work accidents, in protest of Saturday's accident which killed ten workers at a construction site, in central Istanbul Sept 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkish riot police on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters in Istanbul, a day after 10 workers were killed when a lift crashed to the ground from the 32nd storey of a building.

Police stepped in when more than 1,000 people gathered near the construction site in Istanbul's upscale Mecidiyekoy district to express their anger at Turkey's lax workplace safety measures, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

"This is not an accident, this is murder!" the crowd, angry at Turkey's abysmal workplace safety record, shouted as they gathered near the construction site in Istanbul's central Mecidiyekoy district while riot police looked on.

Authorities said an investigation had been launched into the incident at the Torunlar Centre, which is being built on the former site of Galatasaray football club's Ali Sami Yen stadium.

Police on Sunday released eight people detained in connection with the incident including the safety director of the site, after hearing their testimonies.

Thirty-six of the tower's 42 floors have already been completed, local media reported.

The exact cause of the accident remains unclear. There have been claims that the elevator broke down two weeks ago and that workers were awaiting funds to repair it.

Labour and Social Security Minister Faruk Celik said the accident happened after a freight elevator workers used to carry construction materials derailed, with workers and building materials crashing to the ground.

"We will go after (the guilty people) if there is any negligence or shortcoming," he was quoted as saying by Turkish media.

The building's owner Aziz Torun denied any responsibility, as well as the possibility of a technical problem with the elevator.

"I used the same elevator 10 days ago," Mr Torun told a press conference.

"The elevator is supposed to carry both people and materials. It can carry 2,700 kilos of freight or 28 people," he said.

"Authorities and the prosecutor will decide" what caused the accident, he added.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the workers' deaths "very painful and very saddening".

"The investigation will be carried out in detail," he told reporters on Sunday in his home city of Konya in central Anatolia.

The incident, which is due to top the agenda of the weekly cabinet meeting on Monday, put Turkey's poor record on workplace safety under further scrutiny.

In May, 301 miners died in the western town of Soma in Turkey's worst ever industrial accident. Most of the dead were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Turkey has the world's third highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, according to the International Labour Organisation.