Grief and rage as Turkey buries mine disaster dead

Comment: Off

A man offers his prayers for the victims of the mining accident being buried during their funeral procession as he sits by empty graves prepared for the victims, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A man offers his prayers for the victims of the mining accident being buried during their funeral procession as he sits by empty graves prepared for the victims, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A woman prays at the grave of Ibrahim Duman, 26, a victim of the mine accident, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

A Turkish woman shows the pictures of her son, no name available, a victim of the mine accident, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Relatives of miners wait near a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Miners and members of the rescue services wait outside a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. An explosion and fire at the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Buy AP Photo Reprints

SOMA, Turkey (AP) — With photos of their loved ones pinned to their chests and chanting the names of lost miners, grieving relatives laid their dead to rest in mass burials Thursday, as gravediggers labored to make room for scores more victims of Turkey’s worst mining disaster.

“The love of my life is gone,” women wailed loudly, swaying and singing improvised laments about the departed as bodies were lowered, one by one, into the freshly dug graves.

Rescue teams recovered another nine victims, raising the death toll to 283 from Tuesday’s disaster, with at least 140 miners believed still trapped underground, according to government figures.

Rage blended with grief as revulsion over poor safety conditions and what some perceived as government indifference set off protests across Turkey. “It’s not an accident, it’s murder,” read a banner waved by trade unionists who marched through the streets of Istanbul.

The disaster has stirred up new hostility toward Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and thrown his presidential ambitions off stride. Blackening his reputation further, Turkish newspapers published a photograph Thursday of one of Erdogan’s aides kicking a protester who was being held on the ground by armed police.

At a graveyard in the mining town of Soma, where coal has been the main industry for decades, mourners said they spent their whole lives fearing a disaster like Tuesday’s, in which an explosion set off a deadly fire just as workers were preparing for a shift change, trapping hundreds underground. No miner has been brought out alive since before dawn Wednesday.

“The wives of the miners kiss their husbands in the morning. When they come back, even if they are five minutes late, everyone starts calling, said 45-year-old Gulizar Donmez, whose husband and father are both miners and whose neighbor was among the victims. “You never know what is going to happen.”

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the search for survivors was being hampered by a fire that had spread to a conveyor system — engulfing a 650-foot (200-meter) stretch of tunnel — but progress was made Thursday toward extinguishing it. Rescue operations have been suspended several times as fire created toxic fumes and too-risky conditions for rescuers.

Emergency crews detected a drop in carbon monoxide levels “which means that the fire has gotten smaller,” Yildez said.

Erdogan, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon for Turkey’s presidential election in August, was greeted by angry protests during a visit to Soma on Wednesday after he referred to mining accidents as “ordinary things” that “happen all the time.”

The Turkish leader was forced to take refuge inside a supermarket after angry crowds shouting “Murderer!” and “Thief!” — in a reference to alleged corruption — clashed with police.

An Erdogan aide, Yusuf Yerkel,” was photographed kicking a protester being pinned to the ground by special forces police.

Yerkel issued a statement Thursday expressing regret, but also claimed he was provoked. “I am sorry that I was not able to keep calm despite all the provocations, insults and attacks that I was subjected to,” he said.

In contrast, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, visiting Soma on Thursday, referred to the mine explosion as “a huge disaster,” adding: “The pain is felt by us all.”

The mood was more restrained than during Erdogan’s visit, though townspeople angry at what they said was the slow rescue operation shouted at him, demanding that more be done to reach possible survivors.

Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to become Turkey’s first popularly elected president. His party swept local elections in March despite a corruption scandal that forced him to dismiss four government ministers and has also implicated him and family members.

Comments

comments

About the Author