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Turkey’s far-right leader calls healthcare workers’ protests against violence ‘illegitimate’

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Turkey’s far-right leader and an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed doctors and medical workers who took to the streets on Thursday during a two-day strike to protest the recent murder of a cardiologist in the central province of Konya.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli called the protests staged by the healthcare workers “problematic” and “illegitimate.”

The relative of a patient fatally shot Ekrem Karakaya, a cardiologist at the Konya City Hospital, on Wednesday, 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 public that health services would be provided as on public holidays and urging them not to try to access healthcare services except in emergencies.

In a message released on Friday on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha, which will begin to be observed on Saturday, Bahçeli said he finds it wrong for the doctors to stage a two-day strike based on a “provocation” from the TTB and the cancellation of patients’ appointments due to the strike “problematic” and “illegitimate.”

The MHP leader also targeted the TTB for earlier statements that frequently criticized the healthcare policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the MHP’s election partner.

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.

President 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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