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Turkish healthcare workers stage nationwide protest over murder of cardiologist

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Physicians and healthcare workers across Turkey took to the streets on Thursday as they went on a two-day strike to protest the recent murder of a cardiologist in the central province of Konya, Turkish media outlets reported.

The relative of a patient fatally shot Ekrem Karakaya, a cardiologist at the Konya City Hospital, on Wednesday, and then took his own life. There were claims that the assailant, identified as Hacı Mehmet Akçay, held the doctor responsible for the death of his mother, who died of a heart attack a month earlier, the reports said.

Following the incident, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), one of Turkey’s leading healthcare unions, released a written statement to announce a two-day strike across the country, informing the citizens that health services would be provided as on public holidays and urging them not to try to access healthcare services except in emergencies.

In line with the statement, scores of physicians and healthcare workers, including mostly members of the TTB, went on a two-day strike in various provinces including İstanbul, Ankara, Çanakkale, Eskişehir, Adıyaman, Bartın, Bursa and Bolu as of 9 a.m. on Thursday.

Groups of doctors and healthcare workers observed one minute of silence, followed by a 15-minute sit-in and a press statement, to protest the murder of Karakaya, accusing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of failing to take the necessary measures to protect them against acts of violence and calling on Health Minister Fahrettin Koca to resign.

According to Artı Gerçek news website, police intervened in a protest in İstanbul using pepper spray and forming barricades in an attempt to prevent the demonstrators from marching toward the İstanbul Provincial Healthcare Directorate in Fatih.

“Are you going to kill us, too?” the protestors shouted at the police officers who were trying to disperse the demonstration, Artı Gerçek said.

A video released by local media outlets also showed a large group of protestors booing Minister Koca in Kayseri, where he went to attend the funeral of Karakaya, with many people chanting slogans urging him to resign.

Wednesday’s attack came at a time when hundreds of doctors are leaving Turkey and moving abroad due to the frequent acts of violence and poor working conditions in the country. It’s common in Turkey for patients or their relatives to attack doctors, demanding to be treated immediately or holding them responsible for the death of a family member.

The medical community has been calling for more manageable workloads, increased security and an boost in pay due to the heavy workload caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising cases of physical violence against healthcare workers and soaring inflation –- registered at a two-decade high, according to official figures -– that reduce doctors’ salaries close to the minimum wage.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked anger and disappointment when he in a speech in early March condemned an increasing number of Turkish doctors who are choosing to move to the private sector or go abroad for better job opportunities, saying they are free to go and that Turkey will find ways to make up for their loss.

After facing an angry reaction from the medical community, thousands of whose members took to the streets on the occasion of Medicine Day, marked every March 14 in Turkey, Erdoğan later praised the efforts of doctors, especially during the pandemic, and said, “Turkey is always in need of its doctors and is indebted to them.”

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