Turkey\’s Public Workers Union Confederation represents hundreds of thousands of employees. The union says the one-day strike is a protest against the nation\’s poor mining safety standards.
Emergency workers continue to search for survivors after an electrical explosion erupted deep inside a coal mine Tuesday in the town of Soma, south of Istanbul. Officials say a fire still blazing inside the mine is hindering efforts to reach the 120 people thought to be trapped in the pit.
Rescuers hope the trapped miners have taken refuge inside one of the so-called safe rooms to avoid thick smoke and poisonous gases in the mine.
Government and mining company officials say nearly 450 miners have been rescued.
An explosion caused the pit to collapse on Tuesday, while 787 miners were underground.
In the capital, Ankara, on Wednesday, police fired tear gas and water cannon at about 800 protesters who tried to march on the energy ministry. Water cannon was also used in Istanbul to disperse protesters in the main shopping street Istiklal.
Anxious crowds outside the mine Wednesday cheered when some of the men emerged with blackened faces but remarkably unharmed. As the day wore on, the cheers became sobs when rescuers started bringing out bodies.
Many in the crowd expressed anger at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan\’s government.
People in Soma hurled abuse as they surrounded Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan\’s car during his visit to the scene of the tragedy, and protesters clashed with police in Istanbul and Ankara.
Relatives have voiced anger over a lack of information. Amidst a massive security operation, Prime Minister Erdogan visited the mine, and protesters in Soma kicked his car while calling for the government to resign.
Local media reports said protesters in Soma kicked Erdogan\’s car and called for his resignation after he gave a news conference on the disaster.
He was booed as he emerged from his car. Some arrests were made amid the scuffles and pictures showed the prime minister, surrounded by bodyguards, seeking refuge in a shop. Protesters also attacked the town\’s ruling AK party offices.
In his defense, while speaking to journalists, Erdogan cited 19th century mining disasters in the United Kingdom, claiming such disasters were not confined to Turkey.
"About 204 people died in Britain after a mine collapse in 1838, 361 miners died there in 1866, and an explosion in 1894, 290 people died in Wales," said Erdogan.
He promised a thorough investigation into Tuesday\’s disaster.
Police in Ankara used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to march on the energy ministry. In Istanbul, dozens gathered outside the headquarters of the company that owns the mine.
Authorities say the collapse was caused by an electrical fault that ignited an explosion and fire, which is still believed to be burning in some parts of the mine.
The government is under increasing pressure after last month refusing parliamentary opposition calls to investigate the owners of the mine, over safety concerns.
At the mine, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz says rescue efforts are being hampered by high levels of carbon monoxide, which has caused those efforts to be repeatedly suspended. Oxygen is continuing to be pumped into the mine, which is more than a kilometer deep.
Most of the deaths are believed to have been caused by suffocation. The United States offered assistance to the Turkish government.
Earlier Erdogan announced three days of mourning for the victims.
Turkey\’s coal mines are notoriously dangerous, prompting some in parliament to demand an investigation into poor safety conditions.
The International Labor Organization ranked the EU candidate nation third worst in the world for worker deaths in 2012.
Turkey\’s rapid growth over the past decade has seen a construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy demands, with worker safety standards often failing to keep pace.
Its safety record for coal mining has been poor for decades, with its deadliest accident to date in 1992, when a gas blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.