Turkish Mine Explosion: Angry Protests As Death Toll Rises

By Bill Chappell NPR

The death toll in the coal mine explosion in Turkey keeps rising, and anger over the incident has spread around the country. Thousands of people staged protests after a speech from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he suggested such accidents are unavoidable.

Officials say at least 282 mine workers have died in the incident in the city of Soma. That figure seems certain to rise, as about 100 people are still missing. The mine explosion is already being called the deadliest industrial disaster in Turkey’s history.

Burials are being held Thursday in Soma. As Reuters reports, “Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead, and excavators dug mass graves.”

The fate of workers still in the mine is uncertain, but officials have said they aren’t optimistic about bringing anyone else out alive. Rescue efforts have been hampered by fires inside the deep mine, which contains lethal amounts of carbon monoxide that is being blamed for many of the deaths.

Turkey’s mine safety standards are the subject of a story by the country’s NTV network, which notes that emergency safe rooms — such as the one that helped 33 miners survive for more than two months after a collapse in Chile — aren’t required in Turkey.

Anger over the mine disaster has sparked public protests, particularly after Erdogan made remarks Wednesday in which he compared the event to industrial accidents in 19th-century Britain.

He was quoted by Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News:

” ‘I went back in British history. Some 204 people died there after a mine collapsed in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there,’ Erdogan said on a visit to the grieving town of Soma, while choosing not to elaborate on how accidents in 19th-century Britain might be applicable to Soma’s unfolding disaster.

” ‘Take America with all of its technology and everything. … In 1907, 361 [miners died there],’ he added. ‘These are usual things.’ ”

In Soma and other cities, crowds of people gathered, chanting their demand that the government resign.

Video of Erdogan’s visit to Soma shows a mass of people surrounding his official convoy, booing, hitting and kicking the vehicles. A government official, wearing a suit and tie, was reportedly photographed angrily kicking at a man as two soldiers grappled with him on the ground. Turkish media — and Britain’s Channel 4 — say the official is Yusuf Yerkel, a senior adviser to Erdogan.

Protests also formed in large cities. From CNN:

“Hundreds took to the streets in anti-government protests in Istanbul and Ankara, with police answering in some cases with water cannons and tear gas.

“In the nation’s capital of Ankara, some left black coffins in front of the Energy Ministry and the Labor and Social Security ministry buildings.”

At least one group called for workers’ strikes across Turkey today.

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