SOMA, Turkey, May 15 (Reuters) – Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead and excavators dug mass graves in this close-knit Turkish mining town on Thursday, while protesters gathered in major cities as grief turned to anger following the country’s deadliest industrial disaster.
Rescuers were still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul, almost 48 hours after fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, trapping hundreds underground.
At least 282 people have been confirmed dead, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning, and hopes are fading of pulling out any more alive of the 100 or so still thought to be inside.
Anger has swept a country that has boasted a decade of rapid economic growth under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government but which still suffers from one of the world’s worst workplace safety standards.
Furious residents heckled Erdogan and jostled his entourage on Wednesday as he toured the town, angry at what they see as the government’s cosiness with mining tycoons, its failure to ensure safety and a lack of information on the rescue effort.
Access to the mine entrance was blocked by paramilitary police roadblocks several kilometres away ahead of a visit by President Abdullah Gul on Thursday, as officers searched cars.
“We came here to share the grief and wait for our friends to come out but we were not allowed. Is the president’s pain greater than ours?” asked Emre, an 18-year-old trying to get to the mine who said friends from his village were still trapped.
Erdogan, who announced three days of national mourning from Tuesday, expressed regret for the disaster but said such accidents were not uncommon, and turned defensive when asked if sufficient precautions had been in place.
Newspaper Radikal published an amateur video clip on its website appearing to show Erdogan saying “Come here and boo me” as he walked through a hostile crowd in the town on Wednesday.
A picture of one of his advisers appearing to kick a protester, doing the rounds on social media, did little to help his image. His office was not immediately available to comment.
OUT OF TOUCH
Erdogan, who is expected to stand in a presidential election in August, has weathered mass protests and a corruption scandal over the past year, and his AK Party dominated local polls in March despite the political turbulence.
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