Turkey mine explosion: Grief, anger, violence mount as death toll climbs

Rescue teams at Soma coal mine. (Image courtesy of Mustafa Karaman | WikiMedia Commos.)

Turkey’s government pushed Thursday to wrap up rescue efforts in the nation’s worst-ever mining catastrophe, as the mounting death toll fuelled public and unions anger over the country’s poor safety record.

At least 282 people have died after the Tuesday explosion and fire at a coal mine in the country’s western Soma region, with 142 people still unaccounted for.

No miner has been brought out alive since early Wednesday.

Paramilitary police blocked the mine entrance several kilometres away of it ahead of a visit by President Abdullah Gul this morning, as officers searched cars.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was booed and jostled by angry protesters during his visit to the area. There were violent protests in other cities on as well, including Ankara and Istanbul.

Turkey mine explosion: Grief, anger, violence mount as death toll climbs

Meanwhile about 3,000 people have begun gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, as part of one-day strike in protest at the government’s role in the nation’s worst ever mine disaster.

Similar protests are due to be held in 13 other cities around the country.

Locals have more than enough reasons to be angry:

  • Erdogan, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for presidential elections in August, shocked media and global audiences alike by saying tragedies like Tuesday’s were “ordinary things” that also occur in many other countries. You can watch him in this video, posted by The Washington Post.
  • An upsetting image has emerged, which shows the moment Erdogan’s adviser kicked a protester being restrained on the ground during anti-government demonstrations. The photo, first posted by breaking news feed Report Turk, continues to cause outrage as it has been shared across social media thousands of times. The Prime Minister’s adviser, Yusuf Yerkel, said he would release a statement on the incident “as soon as possible”, the Hurriyet Daily News has reported. 

Turkey mine explosion: Grief, anger, violence mount as death toll climbs

  •  Turkey’s Labour and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, most recently in March, when no safety violations were detected. But the country’s main opposition party said it has evidence Erdogan’s ruling party recently voted down a proposal to hold a parliamentary inquiry into a series of small-scale accidents at the mines around Soma, Today’s Zaman reports.

Coal mining is a major industry in the region, helping to supply a nearby lignite-fired thermal power plant, but safety has long been a concern. Since 1941, over 3,000 mine workers have died in Turkey as a consequence of poor safety conditions.