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Credit Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
SOMA, Turkey â As the death toll from Turkeyâs worst mining accident rose on Thursday, labor leaders called for a one-day strike, adding to pressures on the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over its handling of the disaster.
Demonstrations broke out on Wednesday in Ankara, the capital, and in Istanbul, as rescue workers struggled to locate scores of coal miners still unaccounted for after an explosion ignited underground fires a day earlier. Late on Wednesday, the official death toll was put at 274 but it increased to 282 when eight more bodies were recovered.
Officials said on Wednesday that hopes were fading that miners could have survived the disaster. The death toll has now surpassed that of a mine accident on the Black Sea in 1992 that killed 263 workers.
Public discontent has deepened as victimsâ families demand answers about what happened at the coal mine near this town, some 75 miles northeast of the Aegean port city of Izmir.
Angry Turks Demand Answers After Mine DisasterMAY 14, 2014
Video: The Mine Collapse in TurkeyMAY 13, 2014
Video: Reaction From Turkey on Mine CollapseMAY 14, 2014
Five labor unions called for a one-day nationwide strike on Thursday, demanding better health and safety standards for miners. They also said that mine inspectors should be drawn from labor unions and that they should include independent experts not employed by the mining corporations. The mine at Soma was formerly state-owned but had been leased to a private company, news reports said.
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Search Continues in Turkish Mine
Search Continues in Turkish Mine
Credit Yasin Akgul/Depo Photos, via Reuters
âMiners suffer long working hours, have no occupational safety or social security, and when most of them are unregistered, they are part of an unregistered economy,â said Umar Karatepe, a spokesman for the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.
Mr. Karatepe said the privatization of mines had led to a sharp increase in accidents âbecause profit is always more valuable than minersâ lives in the private sector.â
Mr. Karatepe said protests would continue until the energy minister, Taner Yildiz, resigned and the government attended to the minersâ immediate concerns.
Graphic: Scene of the Mining Disaster
A fire deep underground seemed to be hampering rescue efforts as thousands of people gathered in Soma, the town nearest to the mine, in hopes of getting news of relatives and friends.
Their frustrations erupted on Wednesday in a rock-throwing protest in front of the headquarters of Mr. Erdoganâs Justice and Development Party that was broken up by the police with tear gas.
Many relatives of the miners have complained about a lack of information from the government and from local emergency agencies. âNo official came here to talk to us, explain whatâs going on,â said the aunt of a 25-year-old miner.
The governmentâs emergency center said on Thursday that 217 of the 282 bodies recovered so far had been handed over to families for burial. The funerals are likely to intensify the anger inspired by the disaster.
The number of people still trapped in the mine was unclear and rescue efforts were slowed because of the risk of gas explosions and continuing fires underground, according to an official in the prime ministerâs office, who spoke in return for anonymity under departmental rules.
On three occasions, the dangers had forced the authorities to suspend attempts to bring more bodies to the surface, the official said.
âImagine the mine as a huge nest of coal, which is burning quietly and can be put out only if pressurized water is pumped into all galleries,â the official said.
The prime ministerâs office estimated on Thursday that around 120 bodies remained to be recovered, but some miners said the figure could more than 200.
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