Turkish Mine Disaster Death Toll Hits 283 As Protests Erupt

Protests against lax safety standards in the country are growing, especially after Prime Minister Erdogan made a speech many felt was callous.

Turkish Mine Disaster Death Toll Hits 283 As Protests Erupt
Al Jazeera / Guray Ervin

The death toll of Tuesday's mine explosion and fire in Soma, Turkey, has climbed to 283. And as the nation continues to mourn the victims, grief is giving way to outrage and anger.

Funerals and mass graves were the scene in Soma Thursday, after the accident trapped about 800 people underground. Officials in Turkey say at least 100 miners are still missing in the aftermath of Turkey's deadliest mining disaster ever. (Via ABC)

Rescuers say hopes of recovering anyone alive are dim. "You can't go in there without a gas mask, without oxygen supplies. You can't live there otherwise. I leave it to you to reach your own conclusions." (Via BBC)

The catastrophe has fueled a fresh wave of anti-government protests in Turkey. Demonstrators flooded the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, and several labor unions staged strikes Thursday to protest Turkey's lax worker-safety policies. (Via Channel 4)

"​Turkey has an appalling record, not only on mine safety but on workplace accidents as a whole. It's got the highest accident rate in Europe for workplaces in general." (Via Al Jazeera)

Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did little to quell the public outrage during a visit to Soma on Wednesday. The Guardian reports Erdogan "delivered an insensitive speech bristling with self-defence ... deflecting any kind of responsibility for the blast in the wake of reports that the government ignored safety concerns."

And Hurriyet Daily News notes Erdogan tried to defend his country's mining safety record by citing other mining accidents from around the world — albeit from the early 1900's. After pointing to an American mining disaster in 1907 which killed over 300 people, Erdogan told reporters "These are usual things."

Erdogan's comments didn't go over particularly well with the people of Soma, who mobbed the Prime Minister as he was leaving town. A scuffle broke out between Erdogan's security team and the crowd, during which the Prime Minister allegedly punched one bystander. (Via Hurriyet Daily News)

And just to put the cherry on top, this picture has been making the rounds on Twitter. That's Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel in the suit there, kicking a protester being wrestled to the ground by security forces. He later apologized for losing his cool, "in spite of all the attacks and provocations I endured." (Via Twitter / @AtillaTasNet@oemoral, @zeynep)

A CNN reporter says the prime minister's combative response to the mining disaster has only encouraged his critics to attack him.

"They're saying, not only did he not do everything he could as the prime minister of this country to make sure that rules were in place to ensure the safety of miners, but he's also unfeeling and callous."

And a writer for Time notes Erdogan might not be able to shrug off criticism from this disaster as easily as he's managed other scandals. "The mine disaster could strike in a visceral way at the core of the Premier’s populist image. ... stand[ing] with the common man against elitists."

Tuesday's disaster tops a 1992 mine explosion as the country's most lethal industrial disaster. Over 3,000 miners have died in Turkey since 1941.