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Updated: Thu, 15 May 2014 08:03:34 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Turkey coal-mine explosion deaths rise to at least 282



A man prays beside a grave of a dead miner while workers dig graves and locals accompany the praying in a cemetary in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 14, 2014. Rescuers pulled more dead and injured from a coal mine in western Turkey on Wednesday more than 19 hours after an explosion, bringing the death toll to above 200 in what could become the nation's worst ever mining disaster. Hundreds more were still believed to be trapped in the mine in Soma, about 480 kilometres (© 298 miles)

A man prays beside a grave of a dead miner while workers dig graves and locals accompany the praying in a cemetary in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 14, 2014. Rescuers pulled more dead and injured from a coal mine in western Turkey on Wednesday more than 19 hours after an explosion, bringing the death toll to above 200 in what could become the nation's worst ever mining disaster. Hundreds more were still believed to be trapped in the mine in Soma, about 480 kilometres (298 miles) southwest of Istanbul. The explosion, which triggered a fire, occurred shortly after 3 pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday. REUTERS/Stringer (TURKEY - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY OBITUARY RELIGION) - RTR3P3HR Stringer/Reuters

Rescue teams recovered eight more victims of Turkey's worst mining accident on Thursday, raising the number of dead to 282 in a disaster that has thrown Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential ambitions off stride.

Although 363 miners were rescued in the western mining town of Soma, some 150 more have not been accounted for. No miner has been brought out alive since early Wednesday.

Erdogan, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for presidential elections in August, was forced to take refuge at a supermarket during his visit to the area Wednesday after angry crowds called him a murderer and thief and clashed with police.

Turkish newspapers Cumhuriyet, Milliyet and others on Thursday printed a photograph showing an Erdogan aide apparently kicking a protester who was on the ground and being held by paramilitary police during the scuffles. The papers identified the aide as Yusuf Yerel.

Protests, strike follow disaster

Erdogan had earlier downplayed the disaster, calling mining accidents "ordinary things" that also occur in many other countries, after giving examples of 19th-century mine accidents in Britain.

For rescuers, part of the problem has been that the mine itself remains dangerous, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed said in a report from Soma.

“Their efforts have been slowed down because of continuing presence of toxic gas. Also, the fire that started all of this, in parts of the mine, is still actually raging,” she said.

“The last person to be pulled out alive was more than 24 hours ago, so the hope is fading very quickly.”

As for Erdogan, "he was not very welcomed. There are those that say the privatization of coal mines in turkey is leading to lower standards," she said

Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to become Turkey's first popularly elected president. His party swept local elections in March despite a corruption scandal that forced him to dismiss four government ministers in December and later also implicated him and family members. Erdogan denies corruption, calling the allegations part of a plot to bring his government down.

Protests broke out in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over the deaths and poor safety conditions at mines around the country. Turk-Is, Turkey's largest trade union confederation representing some 800,000 workers, joined a one-day strike by other unions to demand better conditions for workers.

Workers in the mining region of Zonguldak, obeying the strike, gathered in front of a pit but did not enter it. In Istanbul, a group chanted anti-government slogans and carried a large banner that read: "It's not an accident, it's murder."

In Soma itself, thousands of people were attending funerals for the victims already recovered. Dozens and dozens of graves have been dug in preparation.

Slim hopes for survivors

With hopes for the missing miners fading, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters that rescue efforts were focusing on two areas inside the mine.

Rescue operations have been suspended several times as burning coal inside created toxic fumes and too-risky conditions for the rescue teams.

"We believe that we still have brothers in two areas that we still have not been able to reach," Yildiz said. He did not say whether authorities believed they were dead.

The government has said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion. Scores of those rescued suffered injuries.

The death toll has topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey's Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

Authorities said this week's disaster followed an explosion and fire at a power distribution unit, and most deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Erdogan promised the tragedy would be investigated to its "smallest detail" and that "no negligence will be ignored." Hurriyet newspaper reported Thursday that a group of 15 prosecutors has been assigned to investigate the accident.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Tuesday's explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, which likely raised the casualty toll.

Turkey's Labour and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, most recently in March, when no safety violations were detected. But the country's main opposition party said Erdogan's ruling party had recently voted down a proposal to hold a parliamentary inquiry into a series of small-scale accidents at the mines around Soma.

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