SOMA, Turkey: Anger was growing across Turkey yesterday as hopes faded for scores of workers trapped in a collapsed mine and the death toll hit 245, edging it closer to becoming the country’s worst-ever industrial disaster.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected claims of government culpability.
“We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history,” Erdogan told reporters after visiting the mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province. Erdogan said figures remained uncertain but mining operators thought 120 workers were still trapped following Tuesday’s explosion, caused by an electrical fault. Reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher.
Erdogan said enquiries would be launched into the causes of the disaster, but insisted that “such accidents happen”.
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.”
But hundreds of distraught family and friends gathered near the building where Erdogan gave a press conference were outraged, with some kicking his vehicle and calling for his resignation as he left. Public anger also erupted on the streets over the accident which had claimed at least 245 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 last evening.
Riot police also clashed with thousands of protesters in Istanbul who were chanting anti-government slogans as they marched along the city’s main shopping street Istiklal.
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, photographers reported.
The disaster risks adding to the political pressure on Erdogan, who faced mass protests last summer and a huge corruption scandal involving his family and key allies in recent months.
“If the claims of negligence at the mine prove true, it will have a political price. Such a development would render corruption allegations targeting Erdogan’s government more convincing,” Professor Ilter Turan of Istanbul’s Bilgi University said.AFP