Published — Thursday 15 May 2014
SOMA, Turkey: Anger and grief boiled over into a violent protest Wednesday 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 Wednesday afternoon 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 Erdogan was a “murderer!” and a “thief!“
Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away from scores of injured miners.
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.
Erdogan had warned that some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit the government. Erdogan himself is widely expected to run for president in elections in August, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.
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 kilometers (155 miles) 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.”
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