Anger erupts in Turkey as mine blast claims 274 lives

Anger erupts in Turkey as mine blast claims 274 lives
People react as rescuers carry a miner who sustained injuries after a mine explosion to an ambulance in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 14, 2014.

SOMA, Turkey - Anger erupted across Turkey on Wednesday as hopes faded for scores of workers trapped in a collapsed mine and the death toll rose to 274, in what has become the country's worst mining disaster.

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence, as the country's biggest union called a strike on Thursday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised investigations would be launched into the causes of the disaster but rejected claims of government culpability, saying that "such accidents happen".

"We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history," Mr Erdogan said after visiting the mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province, where grieving relatives of the victims were calling for his resignation.

Mr Erdogan said figures remained uncertain but mining operators thought 120 workers were still trapped following an explosion Tuesday, caused by an electrical fault.

Reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher.

He also appeared to downplay the seriousness of the accident, comparing it to other mining disasters elsewhere, saying "204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864".

"There is something in literature called work accidents." Hundreds of distraught family and friends gathered near the building where Mr Erdogan gave a press conference were outraged, with some kicking his vehicle.

Public anger also spilled onto the streets over the accident that has claimed at least 274 lives - most by carbon monoxide poisoning. Police used tear gas and water canon to disperse between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters in Ankara's downtown Kizilay Square, as well as thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul.

Earlier in the day, they also used tear gas against around 800 students marching on the energy ministry, and 50 protesters who threw eggs at the mining research directorate in Istanbul, AFP photographers reported.

Turkey's Public Workers Unions Confederation, which represents 240,000 employees, said: "Those who keep up with privatisation ... policies, who threaten workers' lives to reduce cost ... are the culprits of Soma massacre and they must be held accountable."

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