A protester runs away from tear gas fired by riot police
during a demonstration in Ankara blaming the ruling AK
Party government for the mining disaster in western Turkey.
Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead as rows of
graves were filled in this close-knit Turkish mining town,
while thousands protested in major cities as grief turned to
anger following the country's deadliest industrial disaster.
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
At least 283 people have been confirmed dead, mostly from
carbon monoxide poisoning, and hopes are fading of pulling
out any more alive of the 100 or so still thought to be
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 cosiness
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 kilometres 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
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
"I am sad I was not able to maintain my composure despite all
the provocations, the insults and attacks to which I was
exposed on that day," Yerkel later said in a statement.
OUT OF TOUCH
Erdogan, who is expected to stand in a presidential election
in August, has weathered mass protests and a corruption
scandal over the past year, yet his AK Party dominated local
polls in March despite the political turbulence.
But his handling of a disaster hitting the sort of working
class, conservative community which makes up the core of his
supporter base is further evidence, his opponents say, that
he is a leader increasingly out of touch.
Gul, a co-founder of Erdogan's party but known for a less
abrasive style, struck a more conciliatory tone, saying
Turkey needed to review regulations to bring them in line
with other countries.
"The pain of every single person is the pain of all of us,"
Gul said. "Such suffering should not be happening. Just like
the advanced countries which no longer go through this, we
have to re-evaluate our rules and take all the necessary
Four of Turkey's labour unions called for a national one-day
strike, furious at what they see as a sharp deterioration in
working conditions since formerly state-run mines including
the one in Soma were leased to private firms.
Several thousand people demonstrated peacefully in Istanbul,
holding banners with slogans including: "It is not an
accident, it is not fate, it is murder" and "Our hearts are
burning in Soma". Some staged a sit-down protest in front of
Police fired water cannon to break up a demonstration in
Izmir, the nearest large city to Soma, and there were reports
of protests in the southern cities of Mersin and Antalya.
Around a thousand people from various trade unions gathered
in Ankara to march on the Labour Ministry, some wearing
miners' helmets and waving banners showing the image of Che
"The fires of Soma will burn AKP," and "AKP murderers" they
chanted, as police looked on.
Thousands gathered after noon prayers for the funerals of
more than 40 of the mine workers at Soma's main cemetery,
where more than a hundred tightly packed graves have been
newly dug. Much of the population around the town either
works in or has relatives employed by the mining industry.
Loudspeakers on street corners used by the local government
to announce news, left from the days when Internet
connections and mobile phones were rare, broadcast the names
of the dead and announced funeral times.
The graveyard was so crowded with back-to-back burials that
the imam repeatedly had to ask families to pay their final
respects quickly to make room for other mourners.
No government officials were in attendance.
"They say they are deeply sorrowed, their hearts are burnt,
devastated. Where are they now?" said Emine, a woman in her
50s attending her nephew's funeral.
"Look at all these poor people whose sweethearts died digging
money for others. They are alone here."
The rescue operation was hampered overnight as the fire
inside the mine continued, making it extremely hazardous for
crews to retrieve bodies. Ventilation systems which pump
fresh air into the mine were relocated to allow teams back
The fire broke out during a shift change, leading to
uncertainty over the exact number of miners trapped. Energy
Minister Taner Yildiz initially said 787 workers had been in
the mine. Erdogan said on Wednesday around 120 were still
thought to be trapped.
Turkey's safety record in coal mining has been poor for
decades, with its previous worst accident in 1992, when a gas
blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of
The operator of the Soma mine, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, said
some 450 miners had been rescued and that the deaths were
caused by carbon monoxide. It said the cause of the fire was
Initial reports suggested an electrical fault, but Mehmet
Torun, a former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers who
was at the scene, said a disused coal seam had heated up,
expelling carbon monoxide through the mine's tunnels and