Turkey mine disaster: PM says 'accidents happen'

People bear a coffin aloft, of one mine accident victim for burial in Soma, Turkey. Photo / AP
People bear a coffin aloft, of one mine accident victim for burial in Soma, Turkey. Photo / AP

Anger is growing across Turkey as hopes faded for scores of workers trapped in a collapsed mine and the death toll hit 245.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected claims of government culpability.

"We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history," Erdogan told reporters after visiting the mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province.

Erdogan said figures remained uncertain but mining operators thought 120 workers were still trapped following Tuesday's explosion, caused by an electrical fault.

Reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher.

Erdogan said enquiries would be launched into the causes of the disaster, but insisted that "such accidents happen".

But hundreds of distraught family and friends gathered near the building where Erdogan gave a press conference were outraged.

Public anger also erupted on the streets over the accident, and police used tear gas and water canons to disperse between 3000 and 4000 protesters in Ankara's downtown Kizilay Square.

In Istanbul protesters marched along the city's main shopping street chanting anti-government slogans.

Three days of national mourning have been declared, while at the scene of the accident, fires and toxic gases were complicating increasingly desperate efforts by 400 rescue workers.

A miner from a different site who joined the effort, Murat Kurkoglu, told AFP: "We will try to save those who are still stuck one by one, but you know very well that there is no more hope. It's finished for them."

Earlier reports said 787 workers were underground when the blast occurred.

By late Wednesday, "close to 450" workers had been rescued, according to the mine operator, Soma Komur Inc, but accounts from rescue workers cast doubt over the numbers.

Harun Unzar, a miner at the site, said: "We are a family and today that family is devastated. We have had very little news and when it does come it's very bad."

- AFP

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