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Disasters

Turkish union calls strike over mine safety amid anger as hopes fade

Turkey's biggest union has said it plans to strike after a devastating mine fire and collapse that killed at least 282 people. The KESK union blamed privatization, as hopes of finding more survivors ebb away.

Strike called as hopes fade

Turkey's Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), representative of some 240,000 employees, demanded accountability for the mining tragedy, and said it would stage a strike on Thursday.

The explosion, fire and subsequent mine collapse below the surface on Tuesday, are believed to have resulted from an electrical fault. The disaster claimed at least 282 lives, with fears that the death toll including those still below ground could rise above 400.

Questions arose on Wednesday about the mine's safety record. Local media reported that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party had last month rejected an opposition call for a safety review at the mine.

"Those who promote privatization and jeopardize the lives of workers for the sake of reducing costs are the culprits of the massacre of Soma and they must be brought to account," said a KESK statement, calling the strike.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said hopes that rescuers would find more survivors were disappearing. "It is worse than initially expected," he said.

There was also personal anger towards Prime Minister Erdogan as he appeared in Soma, having cancelled a trip to Albania, to be at the scene of the accident.

'Accidents will happen'

The prime minister, whose car was kicked by some protesters, inflamed the situation when - appearing to downplay the significance of the disaster - he suggested that mining accidents were not unusual.

"These are ordinary things," said Erdogan, who had been heckled as he tried to show concern for the bereaved. "There is a thing in literature called 'work accident'... It happens in other work places, too," he said. "It happened here. It's in its nature. It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines."

In downtown Soma, protesters confronted police in front of the headquarters of Erdogan's ruling NKP party. Rocks were thrown at police amid angry chants branding the prime minister a liar.

Meanwhile, in the Turkish capital, Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon on a group of marching students protesting alleged negligence by the government and the mining industry. Eggs were thrown at a mining research agency in Istanbul.

The death toll at Soma exceeds that from a 1992 gas explosion near the Turkish Blask Sea port of Zonguldaak, where 263 people were killed.

rc/jm (AFP, dpa)

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