The image of an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kicking a mourner who was protesting the prime minister’s Wednesday visit to Soma has exacerbated tensions as four Turkish labor unions hold a national strike.
A major workers’ union in Turkey called for the nationwide strike on Thursday, as the death toll in the country’s worst-ever mine disaster rose to 282.
Turkey’s Public Workers Union Confederation represents hundreds of thousands of employees. The union says the one-day strike is a protest against the nation’s poor mining safety standards.
According to reports by Reuters, Erdogan was greeted by the boos and heckles of furious protesters as he toured Soma, the site of the disaster and home to some 16,000 miners, many of whom are angry over Ankara’s close relationships with the mining executives they fault for the deadly explosion.
Emergency workers continued to search for survivors after an electrical explosion erupted deep inside a coal mine Tuesday in the mining town south of Istanbul. Officials say a fire still blazing inside the mine is hindering efforts to reach the 120 people thought to be trapped in the pit.
Rescuers hope the trapped miners have taken refuge inside one of the so-called safe rooms to avoid thick smoke and poisonous gases in the mine.
Government and mining company officials say nearly 450 miners have been rescued.
Anxious crowds outside the mine Wednesday cheered when some of the men emerged with blackened faces but remarkably unharmed. As the day wore on, the cheers became sobs when rescuers started bringing out bodies.
Erdogan infuriates crowd
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriated the crowd in Soma by calling workplace accidents “ordinary things.”
“Such mine accidents do not happen only in Turkey. It also happens in many countries such as the United States, China, France, India and Belgium. I give, for example, figures for death tolls, many people died in such coal mine accidents. Our country is in a much better position,” he said.
Erdogan had to take refuge in a grocery store. He also said the disaster in Soma will be thoroughly investigated.
Police in Ankara used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to march on the energy ministry. In Istanbul, dozens gathered outside the headquarters of the company that owns the mine.
Officials say 787 people were inside the mine at the time of the blast, but a VOA reporter who spoke to miners taking part in the rescue operation said they say that the number of miners is usually closer to 1,000.
Officials say most of the workers died from carbon monoxide poisoning after an electrical unit exploded, causing a fire inside the mine. The mining company, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, says it is unsure what caused the explosion.
Turkey’s coal mines are notoriously dangerous, prompting some in parliament to demand an investigation into poor safety conditions.
(Photo of Erdogan: Randam)