Mine Collapse

"Accidents happen" - Turkish PM says government is not to blame for mine collapse

Yusuf Yerkel, advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sparked outrage when he kicked a protester who was being held by police.

ANGER AT TURKEY’S government boiled over when thousands went on strike and police clashed with protesters after at least 282 workers died in one of the worst mining accidents in modern history.

As hopes faded for scores more miners still trapped underground two days after the devastating blast, police fired tear gas and water cannon at around 20,000 anti-government protesters in the western city of Izmir.

Turkey’s four biggest unions called a one-day strike, saying workers’ lives were being jeopardised to cut costs, and demanding that those responsible for the collapse of the coal mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province be brought to account.

Turkey Mining Accident A Turkish woman shows the pictures of her son, a victim of the mine accident, in Soma, Turkey AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“Hundreds of our workers have been left to die from the very beginning by being forced to work in cruel production processes to achieve maximum profits,” they said in a joint statement, calling on people to wear black.

Anger at the disaster has swept across Turkey, where mine explosions and cave-ins are a frequent occurrence.

In Izmir, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Soma, the 61-year-old head of one of the main unions Kani Beko was hospitalised after violent clashes with riot police.

Turkey Mining Accident A man prays before the burials of the victims AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In Ankara, police fired tear gas and water cannon on around 200 protesters, a day after thousands clashed with police in the capital and in Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence.

President Abdullah Gul said on a visit to the mine Turkey faced “a great disaster”, and vowed action to prevent further such accidents.

“Whatever necessary will be done. We need to review all the regulations, like all developed countries do, so that these accidents do not happen again,” a sorrowful Gul said, with a cracking voice.

Government attitude ‘unacceptable’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected claims of government culpability, saying that “such accidents happen”.

Turkey Mining Accident AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

He compared the collapse to 19th-century mining disasters, saying that “204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864″, in an apparent attempt to downplay its severity.

Erdogan was forced to take refuge in a shop after a furious reaction from relatives of the victims and the missing, some of whom began kicking his vehicle.

Photographs of his advisor kicking a protester in Soma sparked outrage on social media.

Death announcements

Authorities said 282 people were confirmed dead making it Turkey’s worst ever industrial accident.

Before midday prayers today, thousands of locals packed the cemetery in Soma where grave-diggers were still hollowing out a long line of graves.

All morning the loudspeakers in the town of 100,000 had been crackling with the sound of death announcements — the names of the deceased, and details of their burial arrangements.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Strike action in Turkey over mining disaster as protesters rage against authorities

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