Turkey erupts in protest over death of 274 coal miners as crowds demand government resign

[Capitalism kills, again.  Notoriously unsafe working conditions (defended by Prime Minister Erdogan) led to an explosion and a mining industry mass murder.  The miners work like slaves, their lives in constant jeopardy, while the owners-exploiters take it all to the bank.  When hundreds died in this accident, and hundreds more injured, thousands gathered in grief and anger, and protests erupted and continue across Turkey.  Scroll through the pictures below. — Frontlines ed.]

Anger and grief boiled over into violent protests across Turkey, as officials announced at least 274 miners died in an explosion and fire in the town of Soma – the country’s deadliest mining disaster.

Nearly 450 other miners have been rescued, the mining company said, but the fate of an unknown number of others remained unclear.

Mass graves were being dug in the town, as it prepared to bury those who were brought to the surface by nightfall, in line with Muslim tradition.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the coal mine waiting for news, countered by a heavy police presence.  In downtown Soma, protesters mostly in their teens and 20s faced off against riot police in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters.

The protesters smashed the party’s office windows with rocks and some in the crowd shouted that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a ‘murderer!’ and a ‘thief!’ .

And in Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri A.S. , Erdogan, coal mining,

Riot police dispersed protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets during a protest in Istiklal avenue in Istanbul

Water was also pumped at the crowds, as Turkey declared three days of mourning on 14 May as the death toll from the country’s worst mining disaster in more than two decades reached 274

Protesters holds flags and banners as Turkish riot police use water cannon to combat their demonstration

Turkish protesters run for cover next to a wounded comrade lying on the ground

Turkish protesters run for cover next to a wounded comrade lying on the ground

The rise in death toll to 274 makes this the worst mining tragedy in Turkey’s history .

Until now, the worst mining disaster was in 1992, when 263 miners were killed near Zonguldak, on the Black Sea.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a group who tried to march to the city’s iconic Taksim Square to denounce poor safety conditions.

Police also dispersed a group marching to the energy ministry in Ankara to protest the deaths, the Dogan news agency reported.

Fences were erected and police also stood guard around Soma hospital, which was treating scores of injured miners.

Some locals said the men were being pressured by the mining company not to talk.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire at a power distribution unit and the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Erdogan promised the tragedy would be investigated to its ‘smallest detail’ and that ‘no negligence will be ignored.’

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Tuesday’s explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, which likely raised the casualty toll.

Conflict: Hundreds of protesters clashed with Turkish police in Ankara after 274 miners were declared dead

A still image taken from a video of rescue work being carried out at the mine accident site on Wednesday

 

A huge rescue operation was mounted to save the miners

In Soma, 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.

Officials said the explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, which is likely to have raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside than The last worker rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn, a government official said on condition of anonymity because she didn’t have prior authorization to speak publicly to journalists about the issue.

As of 3.30pm, it had been about 10 hours since anyone had been brought out alive.

Tragic: Today, locals in Soma began digging graves for the hundreds of victims pulled out last night

Volunteers worked all day marking out spaces in a field and digging as hundreds are still unaccounted for

Volunteers worked all day marking out spaces in a field and digging as hundreds are still unaccounted for

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.

Street battle: Riot police run away from the flames of a fire bomb thrown by protesters as they demonstrate to blame the ruling AK Party government on the mining disaster

Arrest: Riot police detain a protester during a demonstration against the ruling AK Party

A protester catapults stones at Turkish police during a demonstration in Ankara

Rescuers carry a victim of the mine explosion to an ambulance early on Wednesday morning

Relief for one stranded miner as he is taken for medical attention after being brought to the surface. The explosion and fire are feared to have left hundreds trapped and authorities warn that hope is fading.

Freed: A rescued miner is led away by the emergency services

 Freed: A rescued miner is led away by the emergency services

Turkey’s Labor 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.

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

Rescue workers emerged at a slow pace from the mine with stretchers carrying bodies, which were covered in blankets. The corpses’ faces were blackened like the coal.

One man, who declined to be named, said he had led a 10-man team about a kilometer (half-mile), or halfway, down the mine into the tunnels and had recovered three bodies.

At least 80 miners were injured, including four who were in serious condition

Heartbroken: Miners cry after they retrieved a dead colleague from the mine

Dozens of people have gathered at the top of the coal mine in Soma, Turkey, this evening as the rescue operation to free the trapped miners continues

But the men had to flee because of smoke from coal that had been lit by the explosion, he said.

Another man walked down the stairs from the mine’s entrance weeping, with a look of dejection. Behind him, two groups bearing heavy stretchers pushed through the crowd like caterpillars.

As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets back from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims. One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained 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. Yildiz said rescue operations were hindered because the mine hadn’t been cleared of gas.

 

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.  

Yildiz said earlier that some of the workers were 420 meters (460 yards) deep inside the mine. News reports said the workers couldn’t use elevators to escape because the explosion had cut off power.

Overnight, people cheered and applauded as some trapped workers emerged. But others were consumed by grief.

Rescue workers look on as smoke billows from the coal mine

Emine Gulsen, part of a group of women who sat wailing near the entrance to the mine, chanted, ‘My son is gone, my Mehmet.’ Her son, Mehmet Gulsen, 31, has been working in the mine for five years.

Mehmet Gulsen’s aunt, Makbule Dag, held out hope. ‘Inshallah’ (God willing), she said.

Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, said the accident occurred despite the ‘highest safety measures and constant controls’ and added that an investigation was being launched.

‘Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones,’ the company said in a statement.

Emotional family members wait outside the coal mine

Miners assist a colleague who was too weak to walk following the accident

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