- Istanbul 05/14/2014 by Victor Kostev (USA Today)

Protests erupted across the country and angry relatives of the more than 200 victims in a mine disaster booed Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan when he visited the mine and told them that mine accidents are "usual things."

In the capital of Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a group of students who tried to march on the Energy Ministry in protest of poor mine safety. Protests broke out in front of the offices of the mining company, Soma Holding, and near Taksim square – the center of anti-government protests last year.

"I am angry and confused. This is such a horrible tragedy," said Ekim Hakan, a student. "But I feel helpless. The government should be held accountable for this, but they are not listening to us."

At least 245 miners died in a coal mine explosion and fire while 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.

Hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the coal mine in Soma, in western Turkey, waiting for news amid a heavy police presence. Rows of women wailed, men knelt sobbing and others stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed a steady stream of bodies throughout the night and early morning.

Many in the crowd expressed anger at Erdogan's government, shouting that Erdogan was a "murderer!" and a "thief!"

Erdogan said some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit the government over the disaster.

"Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out," he said of those still trapped. "That is what we are waiting for."

In downtown Soma, protesters confronted riot police Wednesday afternoon in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters. Police had gas masks and water cannons. Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away from scores of injured miners.

"The government rejected an opposition motion to investigate safety at the mine a couple of weeks ago, so they have some explaining to do, to say the least," said William Hale, a professor emeritus of Turkish at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London who lives in Istanbul.

"The private company which took over the previously state-owned mine two years ago will come under severe scrutiny. If the government engages in a cover-up, this will be very damaging for them."

Hopes were fading, officials said, as rescuers raced Wednesday to reach more than 200 miners trapped deep underground in a coal mine in western Turkey following an explosion and fire that may be one of the worst mining disasters in the nation's history.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, about 155 miles south of Istanbul, at the time of the explosion on Tuesday.

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

He said 57 mine workers were injured and that most of the deaths were from carbon monoxide poisoning after a fire was triggered by an electrical fault. He said the fire was still blazing inside the mine hours after the blast.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, where safety conditions are sometimes poor. In 1992, a gas explosion killed 263 mine workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

headline photo
Protesters clash with Turkish police in Ankara, Turkey, May 14, 2014, during a demonstration gathering hundreds after more than 200 people were killed in an explosion at a mine. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)


more info