Mass union strikes over a deadly mine collapse have gotten underway in Turkey. Dozens remain trapped, but officials have downplayed hopes of finding more survivors, with the death toll already at 282.
Turkey's biggest unions began a 24-hour strike on Thursday in response to a deadly mine collapse, which was the country's biggest industrial accident in two decades. The protest coincided with the arrival of Turkish President Abdullah Gul who travelled to the western town of Soma, where the disaster had occurred on Tuesday.
The Public Workers Union Confederation (KESK) demanded accountability for the mining tragedy.
"Hundreds of our workers have been left to die from the very beginning by being forced to work in cruel production processes to achieve maximum profits," Turkey's four largest unions wrote in a joint statement.
"We call on our the working class and friends of laborers to stand up for our brothers in Soma," the statement added.
Around 20,000 people took to the streets in the western city of Izmir Thursday, Turkish media reported. Police used tear gas and water cannon against protesters, and the head of the leftist DISK union had to be taken to the hospital after collapsing during the clashes.
Numerous demonstrations were also held Wednesday across the country, with the public questioning the safety standards in place at the work site. Both the company that owns the mine and the Turkish government contend that it met regulations and had undergone regular checkups. However, it was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments while visiting Soma on Wednesday that further fueled public outrage by suggesting that the accident was not unusual.
"These are ordinary things," Erdogan said. "There is a thing in literature called ‘work accident' ... It happens in other workplaces, too."
"Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It's not like these don't happen elsewhere in the world."
The apparent dismissal of anger and concern over the incident caused members of the crowd to begin heckling the premier, some calling for his resignation, and others kicking his car.
A further incident in which one of Erdogan's advisors was photographed kicking a protester also sparked a negative reaction across social media sites.
Officials have not yet confirmed the cause of the blast, which not only collapsed the mine, but also unleashed a fire that continues to rage on, hindering rescue efforts.
On Thursday, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz confirmed that the search for miners had been narrowed to two areas. Citing the high number of deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, he said there was little hope that the remaining workers under the rubble - believed to be roughly 150 people - were still alive.
kms,dr/mkg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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