Turkey mine disaster toll touches 282

Istanbul, May 15 (IANS): The toll in Turkey's coal mine disaster near Soma town has reached 282, making it the country's worst industrial disaster in history, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Thursday.

Yildiz said a fire was continuing in the mine shaft and rescue operations were suspended during the night due to accumulated carbon monoxide, Xinhua reported.

Hopes of finding more survivors are diminishing. During the last 12 hours, no miner has been rescued alive. About 150 miners remain trapped underground.

The disaster occurred in the privately-owned mine in the western province of Manisa during a shift changeover Tuesday. The fire broke out 150 metres underground, Yildiz said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Wednesday that rescue efforts would continue unabated and the government would investigate the accident thoroughly.

The accident has sparked anti-government protests in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya and other cities. The protestors demanded the resignation of the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP.

Erdogan got a taste of people's sentiment Wednesday during a visit to Soma, where relatives of the dead rushed at the premier, forcing him to take refuge inside a supermarket, according to Efe.

Protestors also clashed with police in Ankara, Istanbul, Smyrna and other cities, while Turkey's main unions called for a general strike Thursday.

Erdogan promised an investigation into the tragedy, but declined to place blame and insisted that mining accidents "occur all the time", citing a series of high-fatality mine disasters in various countries between the years 1862 and 1975.

"An inspection of the mine was done in March and there were no irregularities," he said. "Working without accidents is impossible and this mine is one of the best as far as safety conditions."

But Cemalettin Sagtekin, a member of the Association of Engineers and Architects, said Turkish miners endure poor working conditions for the equivalent of 400-500 euros ($549-686) a month.

"The cause of the deaths is the uncontrolled ambition of the bosses," he told CNNTurk. "The engineers who should carry out the regular inspections receive their pay from the firm itself."

The head of the miners union, Tayfun Gorgun, blamed the disaster at Soma on privatisation.

"There were no deaths when these mines belonged to TKI, the state coal company. The deaths began with the privatisation," he said.

Turkey's mining sector suffers an average of 80 job-related fatalities every year. The mine in Soma was acquired by the private company Soma Holding in 2005.

Alp Gurkan, owner of Soma Holding, boasted two years ago about his success in slashing production costs at the mine.

"Before, to extract a tonne of coal cost $130-140, and now we have committed to doing it for $23.80," he told Hurriyet newspaper.

The last major mining tragedy in Turkey occurred in 1992, when a fire and explosion killed 263 people. Two other big mining accidents took place in 1983 and 1990, leaving 103 and 68 dead respectively, Xinhua reported citing earlier data.


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Title: Turkey mine disaster toll touches 282

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