The corporate owner of the Soma coalmine, scene of Turkey’s deadliest mining disaster, says 450 workers have been rescued with 80 of them still hospitalised.
With hope of finding more survivors largely gone, the company on Thursday repeated the official toll of at least 282 killed in the explosion and devastating underground fire two days earlier. At Soma, weeping relatives buried their dead.
The national broadcaster reported late on Thursday that the fire in the mine had been extinguished.
Pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified after a photograph showing one of his advisers kicking a protester at the disaster site was widely circulated on social media.
Yusuf Yerkel, a prime ministerial aide, is shown about to kick a protester who is being wrestled to the ground by two police officers.
Yerkel confirmed to the BBC’s Turkish Service that he was the individual pictured. Turkish media later quoted him saying the protester was a militant leftist who had attacked and insulted Erdogan and him.
Erdogan had visited the Soma mine on Wednesday, only to be confronted by angry locals attacking his car and calling him a “murderer” and a “thief”.
Erdogan has pledged a full investigation into the accident, while protesters across Turkey have called for his government to step down.
Police used tear gas and water canon against thousands of demonstrators in the western Turkish city of Izmir. About 20,000 people attended the rally in Turkey’s third-largest city.
Trade unionists in a range of industries held a one-day strike, protesting Turkey’s poor record on mining safety and charging that regulations had gone unenforced since the formerly state-run Soma mine was leased to a private company.
Citing rescue workers, news agency DHA said that 14 of the dead miners had taken refuge in the pit’s only safe room and took turns wearing oxygen masks before they suffocated. Rescuers found the 14 bodies lying on top of one another.
The report said there was just one safe room for 6500 miners at Soma.
The holding company responded on its website that the mine had been inspected every six months, most recently in March, and nothing had been found amiss.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said earlier that 787 workers had been in the mine when the explosion and fire took place. Citing 282 dead and 450 rescued, the company did not explain the discrepancy with Yildiz’s figures, which would leave 55 people unaccounted for.
The cause of the mine fire has still not been established, but media said an electrical defect was suspected of causing a transformer to explode, setting off the blaze.
Visiting the scene, Turkish President Abdullah Gul promised to shed light on what happened, saying the investigation had begun.
“Whatever is necessary will be done so we do not suffer such pain ever again,” he says.
The Soma explosion and fire is the world’s deadliest mine disaster in nearly 40 years.