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Turkish mine search ends with death toll at 301

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-17

Turkey on Saturday declared rescue operations at an end after retrieving the bodies of the last two trapped coal miners, raising the final death toll following a devastating blast to 301.

“The rescue operation was carried out to completion. There are no miners left underground," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters in the western town of Soma, site of the country's worst ever industrial disaster.

Earlier a new fire broke out in the mine, hindering the rescue teams. Yildiz said it had been extinguished and two more dead workers found. They were believed to be the last bodies in the mine.

"The newly discovered workers will be brought up and given back to their families," he said.

Yildiz said 485 miners escaped or were rescued since the rescue operation started on Tuesday.

The disaster triggered angry protests across Turkey, aimed at mine owners accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its reaction to the tragedy.

Erdogan has presided over a decade of rapid economic growth but worker safety standards have failed to keep pace, leaving Turkey with one of the world's worst industrial accident records.

The frustrations boiled over in Soma on Friday as riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse several thousand protesters.

On Saturday, police increased security in Soma to prevent new protests and detained lawyers who scuffled with police after objecting to identity checks, NTV television reported. The lawyers came to offer legal advice to the victims.

Overnight, demonstrators clashes with police in the western port city of Izmir. There were also protests in Istanbul.

The police intervention in Soma could add to public anger towards Erdogan. There was wide media coverage of footage apparently showing Erdogan slapping a man as locals jeered his entourage when he visited Soma this week.

"Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?" Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in the footage, which surfaced after one of his advisors was photographed kicking a grieving demonstrator.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-17

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