Cyprus Mail

Unions in north call general strike over deaths of teenage students (Update)

THE confederation of unions in the breakaway regime in the north of Cyprus has called a general strike for Thursday and a gathering at 10am outside the office of ‘prime minister’ Huseyin Ozgurgun, in order to protest Tuesday’s death of two teenage girls when their schoolbus crashed into a lorry.

In a statement, the platform called the ‘ministers’ of labour, education, and transport, to resign, and pledged to continue mobilisations until the goal has been achieved.

On behalf of the platform, leader of the union of Turkish Cypriot high-school teachers Tahir Gokcebel invited union members, the general public, pupils, and their parents, to the mass mobilisations.

“The labour minister must resign because the bus driver was driving without a work permit,” Gokcebel said on Wednesday.

“The education minister must resign because the driver was driving the bus without insurance, and the transport minister because he is generally responsible for road safety.”

The platform also demanded the introduction of winter time, in line with the European Union.

Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of students took to the streets of occupied Nicosia to protest actions and omissions that they felt led to the death of their two peers on Tuesday morning.

The protesters, led by the student council of the Ataturk technical school, marched first to the legislature building, calling on the administration of the breakaway regime to resign and shouting slogans like “build roads that are not graves”, “we can’t go to school in the dark”, and “our soul is burning”.

The administration’s decision not to switch back from daylight saving time last month meant that at 7am, when the students were traveling to school, the sun had not risen yet.

The decision, along with the poor state of the road network in the north are thought to have been the main causes of the accident, which claimed the lives of two teenage girls and the driver, 57.

A 15-year-old boy remained in critical condition following an operation, while the driver’s wife, 53, remains in the intensive care unit.

Five other teenagers, injured in the crash, are recuperating, according to a statement.

In response to the accident, the bell in all schools in the north rang at 9am, instead of the usual 8am, and pupils both in primary and secondary schools were briefed on road accidents by their teachers, while a one minute’s silence was observed in all schools in memory of the two girls.

As reported, attendance by high-school students was particularly large.

The protest then headed to the office of the ‘prime minister’, where they called for the resignation of the administration, which they said was “murderous” and should be held accountable.

The pupils threw eggs at the building and asked to meet with Ozgurgun, but were eventually seen by his assistant, Olgun Amcaoglu.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Ataturk technical school student council chairman Huseyin Kofali said that similar fatal car crashes have occurred before on the same road, but money to repair roads was used up elsewhere.

“Either the state will find a solution, or we will fix the roads ourselves,” Kofali said.

He added that they are now forced to go to school while it’s still dark, a decision they had no say in, and wondered who would be held accountable to the families of the victims.

“It could have been us on that bus,” he said. “That’s why we will not be silenced, but we will raise our voices and be heard.”

Meanwhile, the board of Turkish Cypriot teachers’ union Ktos assembled at a primary school in occupied Nicosia.

Union leader Sener Elcil pointed out that the bus was made in 1967, and censured the decision to keep the summer time.

“In order to sync with prayer time in Saudi Arabia, the Turkish government made the decision and the puppet government implemented, word for word, and we haven’t fought against it,” he said.

“This is Cyprus, not Turkey. It is not the imam’s time, we must have Europe’s time. This is a European country, it should have European time.”

The funeral of 16-year-old Sude Demirkiran and Denktas Mutluel, the bus driver, was to be held on Wednesday, while 17-year-old Olayda Ozturk’s funeral will be held on Thursday.

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