In Wake Of Turkey Coal Mine Explosion, Anger Turns On Prime Minister

A day after an explosion at a coal mine killed at least 245 miners in Soma, Turkey, family members are gathering in protest. Sebnem Arsu of The New York Times offers more details from Soma.

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Protests broke out today in Istanbul, Ankara and in the western Turkish town of Soma, a day after an explosion and fire at a coal mine there killed at least 274 miners. Many more remain unaccounted for.

BLOCK: It's the worst mining disaster in Turkey's history. Angry family members have gathered at the mine and at the local hospital. In Soma, protestors threw rocks at the police and blamed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him a thief and a murderer.

Earlier, I reached New York Times reporter Sebnem Arsu, at the Soma mine. I asked her whether she was still seeing any injured miners being brought out alive.

SEBNEM ARSU: No, no. That stage they say has been long left behind. And right now, actually, they're talking about really disturbing looks of the dead bodies that they've removed from the mines. The bodies of the dead were mostly exposed to poisonous gas like carbon monoxide in the early hours of the rescue operation. Whereas now, the miners are talking about bodies being entirely burned or bloated because of the poisonous gas that they've inhaled before dying.

BLOCK: Have you been able to talk to any of the family members who've gathered there at the mine, desperate to find out information?

ARSU: Yeah. They're really frustrated. They're very quiet, though. Sometimes, of course, the tension rises and you see occasional protests when officials come to visit the site. Although, we've seen a larger protest in Soma town center, which is about 30 kilometers away from the site of the actual mine. I spoke to an old lady who was expecting some news on her 25-year-old niece who was also trapped inside along with others. And she was saying that her entire family had done mining work. They have never seen such a disaster and all she needed was some health information from officials but that never came. And also she was upset that when prime minister visited the site the rescue operation was halted during his visit - which meant that the bodies were not taken out.

BLOCK: Prime Minister Erdogan did promise a thorough investigation into the disaster. But at same time, he seemed pretty dismissive. He said explosions like these happen all the time. He rattled off other mining disasters from all over the world, all through history. What do you make of his response to this?

ARSU: It's really, that tone in Mr. Erdogan's statement does not really match the atmosphere and the feeling here. Some people say that there would be some political repercussions of this explosion when only 20 days ago, the opposition party had applied to the parliament asking a parliamentary commission to be established to investigate how safe the conditions at coal mines in this region, including Soma coal mine. And that also has been dismissed by the governing party. That is very upsetting for many people.

BLOCK: What are you seeing right now? I hear a lot of commotion behind you. What's going on?

ARSU: There are a lot of miners, there are a lot of families who would refuse to leave the site before the bodies are delivered to them. There are also a large number of rescue workers, wearing hard hats and miners outfitted completely soaked in blood and dirt. Their faces are dirty in their eyes look very tired and red because of another sleepless night that is ahead of them.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Sebnem Arsu. She's reporting for The New York Times from Soma in Turkey, the site of the coal mine explosion. Sebnem, thanks so much.

ARSU: You're welcome.

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