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  • 17 May 2014, 4:44

Turkish Police Clash With Mine Protesters

Turkish police have fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters in Soma near the site of a deadly mining disaster.

A crowd, reported to be up to 10,000 strong, were chanting anti-government slogans as they demonstrated in the town following the deaths of at least 298 coal miners.

The country's worst ever mining accident has lead to protests in several Turkish cities from the capital Ankara to the western city of Izmir.

Anger grew as the extent of Tuesday's fire and explosion became clear.

Protests were partly directed at mine owners accused of prioritising profit over safety, and partly at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, seen as too close to big business and too lax in enforcing regulations.

Mr Erdogan has also been accused of punching a demonstrator, as fresh images sparked new claims of violence against protesters angry over the government's handling of the disaster.

In Soma, people scattered into side streets as the police intervened on a commercial street lined with shops and banks, as well as the offices of the local government and labour union.

One hand-written sign among the crowd read: "No coal can warm the children of fathers who died in the mine".

The protesters had been trying to get to a statue honouring miners in the centre of the town when the route was blocked by the police.

Fire sent carbon monoxide rushing through the mine within minutes on Tuesday but the exact cause remains unclear, the mine operator said on Friday.

Most of the 787 workers inside had oxygen masks but smoke and gas spread so quickly that many were unable to escape.

Amateur video shot during Mr Erdogan's visit to the site of the mining disaster appears to show two of his bodyguards punching an anti-government protester.

On Friday a Turkish mining company defended its safety record and senior Turkish officials denied allegations of lax government oversight.

"We have no inspection and supervision problem" at the Soma mine, insisted Huseyin Celik, a deputy leader of the ruling party, who said the mine "was inspected vigorously 11 times since 2009."

Akin Celik, the Soma mining company's operations manager, said there was "no negligence" involved. He said thick smoke from the underground fire cost the lives of miners who had no gas masks.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that anyone found to have been negligent about safety at the mine can expect punishment.

Soma resident Ibrahim Ali Hasdan said he was astonished by claims that there was no negligence.

The owner of the mine, Alp Gurkan, said he had spent his own money improving standards at the mine and hoped to continue operations there after correcting any problems found by investigators.

Grieving relatives in Soma laid dozens of their dead to rest in mass burials this week, chanting the names of lost miners and wailing with photos of their loved ones pinned to their chests.

Funeral prayers were being held in mosques throughout Turkey for the victims. Mr Erdogan attended one in Istanbul.

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