Protests erupt throughout Turkey after mine disaster

Riot police try to stop protesters attacking the offices of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Soma, Turkey, during his visit on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Riot police try to stop protesters attacking the offices of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Soma, Turkey, during his visit on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.                                       (photo credit: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Erdogan heckled with shouts of ‘Murderer’ and ‘Thief’ as he visits town of Soma; Turkey’s biggest union announces strike

(SOURCE)   SOMA, Turkey — Amid wails of grief and anger, rescue workers coated in grime trudged repeatedly out of a coal mine Wednesday with stretchers of bodies that swelled the death toll to 274 — the worst such disaster in Turkish history.

Hopes faded for 150 others still trapped deep underground in smoldering tunnels filled with toxic gases.

 Anti-government protests broke out in the mining town of Soma, as well as Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heckled as he tried to show concern. Protesters shouted “Murderer!” and “Thief!” and Erdogan was forced to seek refuge in a supermarket, surrounded by police.

The display of anger could have significant repercussions for the Turkish leader, who is widely expected to run for president in the August election, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the mine’s entrance Wednesday, waiting for news amid a heavy police presence. Rows of women wailed uncontrollably and men knelt sobbing or simply stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed body after body, some charred beyond recognition.

People take to the street and march to the local office of Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Soma, Turkey, on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/Emrah Gurel)

People take to the street and march to the local office of Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Soma, Turkey, on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/Emrah Gurel)

One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police had to restrain him from climbing into an ambulance with the body. An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers.

Turkey’s biggest union said it would go on strike Thursday over the devastating explosion.

“Those who keep up with privatization … policies, who threaten workers’ lives to reduce cost … are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable,” Turkey’s Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 employees, said on its website.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday’s explosion: 274 died and 363 were rescued, including scores who were injured.

The death toll topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey’s Black Sea port of Zonguldak. It also left 150 miners still unaccounted for.

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