Protests Erupt In Turkey Over Mine Tragedy

Anger and grief boiled over into a violent protest in the western Turkish town of Soma, where officials said at least 245 miners died in a coal mine explosion and fire.

Nearly 450 other miners were rescued, the mining company said, but the fate of an unknown number of others remained unclear in one of the world’s deadliest mining disasters in decades.

There was no immediate confirmation of the company’s number from Turkish officials, who earlier said 363 miners had been rescued.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the coal mine waiting for news, countered by a heavy police presence.

Rows of women wailed uncontrollably, men knelt sobbing and others just stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed a steady stream of bodies throughout the night and early morning. Others shouted at Turkish officials as they passed by.

In downtown Soma, protesters mostly in their teens and 20s faced off against riot police in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters. Police had gas masks and water cannons.

Many in the crowd expressed anger at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Rocks were thrown at the police, who chased down some of the protesters.

Other protesters shouted that Mr Erdogan was a “murderer!” and a “thief!”

In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the company that owns the mine, Soma Holding.

In the capital, Ankara, police dispersed a group who tried to march to the energy ministry to protest the deaths, the Dogan news agency reported.

Mr Erdogan had warned that some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit the government.

Mr Erdogan himself is widely expected to run for president in elections in August, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.

Mr Erdogan had declared three days of national mourning and ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff after the tragedy struck Tuesday.

He postponed a foreign trip to visit the mine in Soma, about 250 kilometres south of Istanbul.

“Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out,” he said of those still trapped.

“That is what we are waiting for.”

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit and the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The prime minister promised the tragedy would be investigated to its “smallest detail” and that “no negligence will be ignored.”

Mr Erdogan discussed rescue operations with authorities, walked near the entrance of the mine and comforted two crying women.

He has appeared less-than-sympathetic in the past, however, saying that death was part of the “profession’s fate” after 30 miners died in a 2010 accident.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of the explosion, 245 died and scores were injured.

He spoke to reporters as he oversaw rescue operations by more than 400 emergency workers.

“Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing,” Mr Yildiz said.

Mr Yildiz said some of the workers were 420 metres deep inside the mine.

News reports said the workers couldn’t use elevators to escape because the explosion had cut off power.

The last worker rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she didn’t have prior authorisation to speak publicly to journalists.

Turkey’s Labour and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, including in March of 2014, and that no issues violating work safety and security were detected.

But the country’s main opposition party said Mr Erdogan’s ruling party had recently voted down a proposal to hold parliamentary inquiry into a series of small-scale accidents at the mines around Soma.

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