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Europe

Mounting fury in Turkey as hopes fade for trapped miners

© Photo: AFP

Video by Kethevane GORJESTANI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-15

Anger erupted across Turkey as hopes faded Thursday for scores of workers trapped in a collapsed mine and the death toll rose to 282, 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," 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.

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.

Erdogan, who spoke with rescue workers and the bereaved, said “no negligence will be ignored'' and that  the tragedy would be investigated to its “smallest detail”.

The death toll has risen rapidly since the blast struck on Tuesday, when 787 mineworkers were trapped inside the mine. The mining company reports that close to 450 of the miners have been rescued.

"We fear the number could rise even further because those who came to help out may be among the injured and affected by the smoke," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said earlier Wednesday.

Yildiz also told reporters that the fire started by the explosion was still burning – lessening the chances that the missing miners were still alive, said FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer, reporting from Ankara.

Hopes fading

Yildiz said that a team of 400 people was involved in the rescue effort and that the main cause of the deaths was carbon monoxide and dioxide poisoning.

The miners are all thought to have gas masks, but it was not clear how long they would last.

Fire officials were trying to pump clean air into the mine shaft for those who remained trapped some two kilometres below the surface and four kilometres from the entrance.

Earlier a security source told AFP that there were pockets in the mine, one of which was open so rescuers were able to reach the workers, but the second was blocked with workers trapped inside.

The last worker rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn on Wednesday, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

“Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing,'' Yildiz said before.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions.

>>Read Hurriyet's analysis: 'Government ignored warnings, miners paid the bill with their lives'

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-14

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