Race to free trapped Turkish miners as death toll hits 282
Published 15/05/2014 | 02:30
Rescue teams have recovered more bodies from a coal mine in western Turkey, raising the death toll in the country's worst mining accident to 282, officials said.
With hopes for scores of other miners trapped underground fading, energy minister Taner Yildiz told reporters that rescue efforts were focusing on two areas inside the mine.
He said a fire was still blazing inside the mine in Soma, hindering the operation.
The government has said 787 people were inside the mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion and 363 were rescued, including scores who were injured.
The death toll topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey's Black Sea port of Zonguldak.
Anti-government protests broke out in the mining town yesterday, as well as in Istanbul and the capital Ankara, with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heckled as he tried to show concern.
Protesters shouted "Murderer!" and "Thief!" and Mr Erdogan was forced to seek refuge in a supermarket, surrounded by police.
The display of anger could have significant repercussions for the Turkish leader, who is widely expected to run for president in the August election, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.
Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the mine's entrance, waiting for news amid a heavy police presence.
Rows of women wailed uncontrollably and men knelt sobbing or simply stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed body after body.
One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognised one of the dead, and police had to restrain him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.
An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers.
Rescue operations were halted for several hours yesterday because high gas concentrations in the mine needed to be cleared.
The last miner rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn and the first burials took place later yesterday.
Mr Erdogan declared three days of national mourning and postponed a trip to Albania to visit the mine in Soma, 155 miles south of Istanbul. He warned that some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit his government.
"Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out," Mr Erdogan said of those still trapped. "That is what we are waiting for."
Yet his efforts to show compassion - discussing rescue operations with authorities, walking near the mine entrance, trying to comfort two crying women - did not always go over well.
At a news conference, he tried to deflect a question about who was responsible for the disaster, saying: "These types of things in mines happen all the time.
"These are ordinary things. There is a thing in literature called 'work accident'. It happens in other workplaces, too. It happened here. It's in its nature. It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines. Of course we were deeply pained by the extent here."
In central Soma, protesters, most in their teens and 20s, faced off against riot police in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters, smashing windows with rocks.
In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a group who tried to march to the city's Taksim Square to denounce poor safety conditions.
Police also dispersed a group marching to the energy ministry in Ankara to protest against the deaths.
Authorities said the disaster followed an explosion and fire at a power distribution unit and most deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.