UK & World News

  • 16 May 2014, 1:34

Fury Over Mine Safety As Turkey Buries Dead

Thousands of protesters have clashed with riot police in several Turkish cities as relatives began to bury those killed in the country's deadliest industrial disaster.

Demonstrators are angry at the government's failure to address safety concerns within Turkey's mining industry, which employs more than 113,000 people.

Police fired water cannon at protesters in the capital Ankara and in Istanbul, a day after grieving residents heckled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he toured Soma.

Many people are furious at what they see as the government's close ties to mining tycoons, and its failure to ensure safety standards within the industry.

Emergency workers have been battling toxic fumes in their frantic search at the scene of the disaster in Soma, some 300 miles (480km) southwest of Istanbul.

Some 283 miners have so far been confirmed dead, however the death toll is expected to rise as families lose hope of finding any of the estimated 150 miners still feared trapped.

The last survivor was brought out more than 24 hours ago.

Rows of graves have been dug to bury those killed in what has become Turkey's worst mining disaster.

Security was tightened at the site for a visit of the country's President Abdullah Gul, with officials anxious to avoid a repeat of the anger which greeted Mr Erdogan on Wednesday, when his car was mobbed by protesters.

Pictures have emerged of that visit which show Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to the prime minister, kicking a demonstrator as he is held on the ground by police officers.

Mr Yerkel released a statement on the incident which read: "I am sad I was not able to maintain my composure despite all the provocations, the insults and attacks to which I was exposed."

Miners have been staging a strike in protest at the tragedy.

The accident has become a focal point of wider dissent against the ruling administration, which has been in power for 11 years, with violent clashes in Istanbul and Ankara.

The government said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of the explosion, and 363 have been rescued, including many who were injured.

But some families have cast doubt on the official figures.

Those still trapped are thought to be some 1.2 miles (2km) below the surface and 2.5 miles (4km) from the mine entrance.

As thousands of anxious relatives waited for news, Mr Erdogan was accused of ignoring warnings over safety at the coal pit.

A convoy containing his car was attacked by crowds and he was forced to seek refuge in a supermarket, surrounded by police.

With tensions running high, protesters shouted for him to resign and said he was a "murderer" and a "thief".

And Mr Erdogan's attempt to downplay the disaster at a news conference did little to quell the anger.

While he declared three days of national mourning and ordered flags to be lowered to half-mast, the Turkish leader said such accidents were not uncommon and happened in other countries, even highlighting cases in 19th century Britain.

Mr Erdogan said: "These types of things in mines happen all the time.

"It's in its nature. It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines. Of course we were deeply pained by the extent here."

The public backlash over the disaster could threaten Mr Erdogan's presidential ambitions ahead of the August election.