Turkish Families Bury Miners as Death Toll Rises to 282

World Today

A man offers his prayers for the victims of the mining accident being buried during their funeral procession as he sits by empty graves prepared for the victims, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead as rows of graves were filled in a close-knit Turkish mining town on Thursday, while thousands protested in major cities as grief turned to anger following the country’s deadliest industrial disaster. At least 282 people have been confirmed dead, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Meanwhile, hopes are fading of pulling out any more alive of the 100 or so still thought to be inside. Rescuers were still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul, more than 48 hours after fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, trapping hundreds underground.

Anger has swept a country that experienced a decade of rapid economic growth under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government but still suffers from one of the world’s worst records of workplace safety. Furious residents heckled Erdogan on Wednesday as he toured the town, angry at what they see as the government’s coziness with mining tycoons, its failure to ensure safety and a lack of information on the rescue effort.

Access to the mine entrance was blocked by paramilitary police roadblocks several kilometers away for a visit by President Abdullah Gul on Thursday. Officers searched cars. “We came here to share the grief and wait for our friends to come out but we were not allowed. Is the president’s pain greater than ours?” asked Emre, an 18-year-old trying to get to the mine who said friends from his village were still trapped.

Erdogan, who announced three days of national mourning from Tuesday, expressed regret for the disaster but said such accidents were not uncommon, and turned defensive when asked if sufficient precautions had been in place. Newspaper Radikal published an amateur video clip on its website appearing to show Erdogan saying “Come here and jeer at me!” as he walked through a hostile crowd in the town.

A picture doing the rounds on social media of one of his deputy personal assistants, Yusuf Yerkel, kicking a protester as he was wrestled to the ground by armed special forces officers did little to help the prime minister’s image. Colleagues in Erdogan’s office defended Yerkel, saying the protester had travelled to Soma deliberately to cause trouble. London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where Yerkel once studied, issued a statement saying it had no association with him after being besieged with enquiries.

Report compiled with information from Reuters.