SOMA, Turkey: Turkey’s four biggest unions will hold a one-day protest strike on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as anger over the country’s worst mining accident mounts, with 282 workers confirmed dead and scores still trapped underground.
The unions said workers’ lives were being put at risk to cut costs, and demanded that those responsible for the collapse of a coal mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province be brought to account.
“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,” they said in a joint statement, calling on people to wear black.
“We call on the working class and friends of laborers to stand up for our brothers in Soma,” they added.
Anger at the disaster has swept across Turkey, where mining accidents are a frequent occurrence.
On Wednesday, thousands of protestors clashed with police in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence.
The prosecutor’s office in Soma has launched an investigation into the cause of the disaster, which has added to the pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The premier has rejected claims of government culpability, saying that “such accidents happen.” In an apparent attempt to downplay the disaster, he compared it disaster to other mining disasters elsewhere, saying that “204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864.”
An electrical fault
It is unclear how many workers are still trapped underground following the huge explosion at the mine on Tuesday, which was believed to have been set off by an electrical fault.
Mining operators put the figure at 90, but reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher. Most of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Erdogan was forced to take refuge in a shop after a furious reaction from relatives of the victims and the missing, some of whom began kicking his vehicle.
An adviser of Erdogan was photographed kicking a protester in Soma, sparking outrage on social media.
Public anger also spilled onto the streets, where police used tear gas and water canon to disperse between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters in Ankara’s downtown Kizilay Square, as well as thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul.
The disaster has added to the political pressure on Erdogan, who faced mass protests last summer and a huge corruption scandal involving his family and key allies in recent months.
“If the claims of negligence at the mine prove true, it will have a political price. Such a development would render corruption allegations targeting Erdogan’s government more convincing,” Professor Ilter Turan of Istanbul’s Bilgi University told Agence France-Presse.