Soma: Turkey’s biggest union has called for a massive strike today amid mounting anger over the country’s worst mining accident, which claimed at least 274 lives with many more still trapped underground.
“Those who keep up with privatisation… policies, who threaten workers’ lives to reduce costs… are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable,” Turkey’s Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 employees, said on its website.
Desperation and anger were rising as hopes fell for scores of workers still trapped in the collapsed coal mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province.
Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Ankara and Istanbul yesterday, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence.
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 on Tuesday, caused by an electrical fault.
Reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher. Most of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
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”.
An electrical fault is believed to have set off a huge explosion in the mine on Tuesday.
Hundreds of distraught family and friends gathered near the building where Erdogan gave his press conference were outraged, with some kicking his vehicle.
Public anger also spilled onto the streets. Police used tear gas and water canon to disperse between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters in Ankara’s downtown Kizilay Square, as well as thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul.
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, AFP photographers reported.