Protests broke out across Turkey after an explosion at a coal mine on Tuesday afternoon has killed at least 270 people. Opposition politician Ozgur Ozel recently proposed to investigate mine safety following earlier deaths, but the government shut him down. Now outraged citizens are urging Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.
A power transformer is thought to have blown up at the Soma mine during shift change, according to the Guardian, causing a massive fire that was still burning 18 hours after the initial explosion.
The paper reports that there were 800 miners on site when the fire erupted. At least 363 people have since been rescued, but hope is beginning to dwindle that those still trapped inside the mine will survive.
People on the scene say that the mine shafts are hot and thick with smoke; Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Despite warnings that doing so could feed the fire, efforts are underway to pump oxygen into pockets below ground in order to help the trapped miners breathe.
“Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing,” said Yildiz. “The problem is more serious than we thought. It is developing into an accident with the highest worker death toll Turkey has seen so far. We are worried that human loss could increase.”
Ozgur Ozel was aware that mine safety regulations across Turkey are failing to keep pace with the country’s rapid industrialization, but conservative politicians stood in the way of any further investigations.
NBC reports that SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., the company that owns the enflamed mine, is involved with various government construction projects, including the country’s second tallest skyscraper.
Nevermind that coal is the single most filthy fuel that Turkey burns with criminal abandon, (the country won the Fossil of the Day Award at the Doha climate change conference in 2012) activist and political science researcher Ercan Akkaya blames the government for what is widely believed to have been a preventable tragedy.
“This was not an accident, it happened because not enough is ever done to protect workers,” Akkaya told the paper. “The government is complicit in these deaths, in our tragedy. Since 2006, almost 11,000 workers in Turkey have died while doing their jobs.”
As protests spread through Ankara and Istanbul, many are wondering whether the angry mobs will trigger another violent, undemocratic crackdown, and whether their efforts will have any impact on this government’s reckless abandon of its people.