Mine Rescue Winds Up As Death Toll Rises To 301
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[May 17, 2014]
By Mehmet Emin Caliskan
SOMA, Turkey (Reuters) - Rescue workers
began winding up their operations on Saturday after finding the bodies
of two more miners, believed to be the last remaining in the mine,
bringing the death toll in Turkey's worst industrial disaster to 301,
the energy minister said.
Earlier a new fire broke out in the mine, hindering the rescue
teams. Taner Yildiz said it had been extinguished and two more dead
workers found. He said the numbers added up with the missing
persons' information provided by families.
"The newly discovered workers will be brought up and given back to
their families. If there is no further demand to us and, the
information we have backs that up, then we will have finished our
search work," he said.
However, he said rescue teams would first conduct a final search
throughout the mine before making a decision on ending the
operation, four days after an initial fire sent deadly carbon
monoxide coursing through it.
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.
Overnight, demonstrators clashes with police in the western port
city of Izmir, some setting up makeshift barricades and throwing
stones and fireworks aimed at the police, Hurriyet newspaper
reported. Some 40 people were detained.
There were also protests in Istanbul. Some residents in the city
banged pots and pans from their windows, an act which was a feature
of last summer's nationwide anti-government unrest.
The police intervention in Soma could add to public anger towards
Erdogan. He survived mass demonstrations and a corruption probe into
his government over the past year to remain Turkey's dominant
politician, but now risks alienating conservative, working-class
voters that form his party's base.
There was wide media coverage of footage apparently showing Erdogan
slapping a man as locals jeered his entourage when he visited Soma
this week. The man, Taner Kurucan, said Erdogan had slapped him and
told Kanal D TV he was then beaten by the prime minister's
His adviser Yalcin Akdogan accused "gang members" of provoking
Erdogan's team as he went to meet mourning families. Anger was
intensified by a photograph of an Erdogan aide kicking a protester
held down by police special forces.
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A group of students at the Istanbul Technical University occupied
the mining faculty on Friday evening in protest at links between the
university and the company which operates the mine - Soma Holding,
the private Dogan news agency reported.
They said they would continue their protest until various demands
were met, including a guarantee that the university's links with the
company were cut and the resignation of an academic there who said
those who die from carbon monoxide poisoning "died sweetly". He has
apologized for his comment.
The mining company managers held a fractious news conference on
Friday where they said an unexplained build-up of heat was thought
to have led part of the mine to collapse, fanning a blaze which
spread rapidly more than two km under the surface.
Opponents of Erdogan blame the government for privatizing leases at
previously state-controlled mines, turning them over to
politically-connected businessmen who they say may have skimped on
safety to maximize profit.
Questioned on links between Soma Holding executives and Erdogan's
ruling AK Party, a mine executive confirmed his wife was a local AK
Party politician. Company chairman Alp Gurkan said he had never met
the prime minister before this week.
The AK Party said the formerly state-run mine at Soma, 480 km (300
miles) southwest of Istanbul, had been inspected 11 times over the
past five years. It denied any suggestion of loopholes in mining
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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