Turkish families bury miners as toll rises to 283

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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 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)

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)

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)

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SOMA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish women sang improvised laments about the departed over freshly dug graves Thursday, even as backhoes carved row upon row of graves into the dirt and hearses lined up outside the cemetery with more victims of Turkey’s worst mining disaster.

Rescue teams recovered another nine victims, raising the death toll to 283, with scores of people still unaccounted for, according to government figures. The disaster Tuesday has set off protests around Turkey and thrown Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential ambitions off stride. Blackening his reputation further, one of Erdogan’s aides was seen kicking a protester held on the ground by armed police.

At a graveyard in the western town of Soma, where coal mining has been the main industry for decades, women wailed loudly in an improvised display of mourning. They swayed and sang songs about their relatives as the bodies were taken from coffins and lowered into their graves. Pictures of the lost relatives were pinned onto their clothing.

“The love of my life is gone,” some sang, chanting the names of dead miners.

No miner has been brought out alive since dawn Wednesday from the Soma coal mine where the explosion and fire took place. Mourners said they spent their whole lives fearing something like this.

“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. You never know what is going to happen,” said Gulizar Donmez, 45, the daughter and wife of a miner and neighbor of one of the victims.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the search for survivors has been hampered by a mine fire that had spread to a conveyor system — engulfing a 200 meter-long (650-foot) stretch — but progress was made Thursday on extinguishing it. Rescue operations have been suspended several times as burning coal inside created toxic fumes and too-risky conditions for the rescue teams.

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

Erdogan, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for Turkey’s presidential election in August, was not welcome during his visit Wednesday. He was forced to take refuge at a supermarket after angry crowds called him a murderer and a thief, in a reference to alleged corruption, and clashed with police.

Turkish newspapers printed photographs Thursday of an Erdogan aide kicking a protester who was being held on the ground by special forces police. The aide, Yusuf Yerkel, issued a statement Thursday that expressed 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.

Erdogan had appeared somewhat tone-deaf to residents’ grief Wednesday, calling mining accidents “ordinary things” that occur in many other countries.

In contrast, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, visiting Soma on Thursday, described the coal mine explosion as “a huge disaster.”

“The pain is felt by us all,” he said.

The mood was more restrained than during Erdogan’s visit, though locals angry at what they saw as the slow rescue operation still shouted at him, demanding that more should 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 in December and later also implicated him and family members. Erdogan denies corruption, calling the allegations part of a plot to bring his government down.

Protests broke out in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities Wednesday over the deaths and poor safety conditions at mines around the country. In Istanbul and

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