Thursday, May 15, 2014

Officials in Turkey Confirm Hundreds of Miners Killed in Coal Mine Explosion

At least 245 miners in western Turkey were killed when a transformer in a mine shaft exploded during a shift change. The death toll is expected to rise after rescuers have been continually hindered by smoke and fallen debris. It was believed that there were as many as 787 workers underground at the Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş. mine during the blast.

First responders were able to rescue some 88 workers in the minutes immediately after the blast. However, while some rescuers believe that a number of the estimated 120 miners trapped below the surface could have made it to underground 'safety chambers' carved into the mine shaft and equipped with oxygen masks, hopes for their rescue grow dimmer by the hour. Family members of some of the missing and dead were waiting outside the mine or local hospitals in Soma. Autopsies performed on two of the miners pulled from the Soma mine show that they were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The mine, which was once state-owned, had been recently privatized and the CEO boasted of bringing down costs from $140 to $24 per ton since the facility was run by the state-controlled TKI Coal Mining in a 2012 interview with Turkish newspaper Hürriyet.

However, the repercussions from this disaster could be felt well beyond the western coal-producing city of Soma. As recently as the end of April, opposition members of the Turkish parliament wanted the government to look into working conditions at the mine as the facility was racked by intermittent strikes and labor stoppages during the last two years with workers claiming unsafe working conditions. The motion was blocked by members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan himself visited Soma on Wednesday and was greeted by jeers and heckling from residents of the mining town. While addressing some of the families of the miners, Erdogan stated that these types of accidents were fairly common- citing a number of 19th century mining disasters in Great Britain in his speech.

Public anger at the Prime Minister only grew further after an image of one of Erdogan's aides kicking a protestor being restrained by Turkish military police in Soma.

After his remarks, relatives of some of the dead and missing miners and angry residents of Soma reportedly forced the Prime Minister and his entourage to seek refuge in a local supermarket. Others reportedly ransacked the local headquarters of Erdogan's Justice and Development party.

Demonstrators also hung banners that read 'MURDERERS' and staged demonstrations in front of government offices in Ankara and Istanbul as police moved in with tear gas and water cannons to break up those protests.

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