'Hope waning' for trapped Turkish miners

ISTANBUL - Hopes are fading of saving 18 miners trapped by a flood in a mine in southern Turkey, the energy minister acknowledged Thursday, blaming negligence for the country's latest mining tragedy.

"Time is ticking by. I have to tell you that hope is waning concerning our 18 worker brothers," said Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who is at the scene of the disaster in the Karaman province.

"It is not just because of the water. It is because of the tonnes of mud and waste that have crashed down into the pits," he added in televised comments.

Tuesday's accident was the latest to hit the country's disaster-prone mining industry after 301 workers were killed in a coal mine explosion in Soma in May.

Some 400 emergency workers are still at the scene in the village of Pamuklu, trying to siphon out an estimated 10 tonnes of water that burst into the shaft and broke down the its walls on Tuesday.

Both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday visited the area in a clear bid to show that the government was on top of the rescue efforts.

Erdogan was vehemently criticised over his handling of the Soma disaster, when he notoriously said such a catastrophe was part of the job, comparing it to mining disasters in 19th-century Britain.

The private company that operates the mine, Has Sekerler, on Thursday broke two days of silence to say that the accident was due an unspecified "natural disaster".

It said in a statement that it had taken "all the necessary security measures" and its conclusion was based on evidence from the 16 miners who had escaped from the shaft.

But energy minister Yildiz ridiculed the statement, saying it was clear that some kind of negligence was to blame.

"Excuse me, but no, we cannot call this a natural disaster. And if there was no natural disaster then that means that there was negligence," he added.

Erdogan the day earlier said while the government tightened safety rules after the Soma disaster it was clear some employers had not properly implemented them.

Labour Minister Faruk Celik said that too many small mines were being operated by companies which did not respect the safety rules.

"I think that these mines should be closed," he said.

Turkey had the the highest rate of workplace fatalities in Europe, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).