Grief, outrage and strikes after Turkey coal mine explosion kills at least 270

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The families of victims in the Turkish coal mine disaster have criticised the country’s government, as hopes of finding survivors slip away and the death toll rises to 270. Crowds called prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a “thief” and a “murderer” when he arrived at the scene.

An electrical failure led to an explosion in the mine in Soma on Wednesday, leaving 787 workers trapped inside. More than 100 people are still missing, with families starting to give up hope that loved ones have survived carbon monoxide poisoning.

However, mourning and grief rapidly turned into rage when Erdoğan showed up at the site of the tragedy.

He was welcomed with shouts of “murderer” and “thief” by protestors angry at the inadequate safety measures in place in the mine, along with the poor working conditions and the privatisation of the sector, with increasing use of subcontractors.

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    As protests take place in Ankara and Istanbul, unions have called for a day of national strike on Thursday to complain against the latest in a long line of mining accidents in Turkey, which have caused the death of 1,500 people since 2002.

    However, Erdoğan defended his government, drawing parallels with coal mining accidents in Britain in the 19th century. “This is what happens in coal mining. There is no such thing as accident-free work”, he said.

    The Turkish government faced strong criticism last year because of authoritarian measures and rapid plans for urban development. This led to the well-publicised protests in defence of Taksim Gezi Park.

    The park was due to be destroyed to build a shopping mall, but locals opposed the move and clashed with police. The riots resulted in seven people losing their lives.

    Under Erdoğan, Turkey has begun negotiations to become a member of the European Union.

    Commenting on the incident in Soma, Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said on Twitter, “So sad for the families devastated by the Turkish coal disaster. Transition to cheap, abundant clean energy just can’t happen fast enough.”

    Photo: Eser Karadağ via flickr

    Further reading:

    Coal mine explosion in Turkey leaves more than 200 dead

    Papua New Guinea is the latest in a long line of fossil fuel disasters

    MINT economies must learn from the west’s unsustainable past

    Coal: spelling an end to a dirty heritage

    UK to end public financing for coal power plants overseas