Mine Disaster Has Ramifications For Turkey's Prime Minister

Hope is fading that any more workers will be rescued from a mine in western Turkey, where more than 280 miners died after an explosion. Anger toward the country's ruling party is growing.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, let's go to Turkey now, where the government says at least 284 people are dead and another 18 still missing in a mining accident. Earlier this week, an explosion in a mine set off a fire and trapped hundreds of miners underground. Hope for more survivors is running out, and the anger toward Turkey's government is growing. NPR's Leila Fadel spent the day in the mining town of Soma.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING AND LOUDSPEAKER)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The sobs of grief and the melody of prayer filled the air as one by one, the town of Soma began to bury their dead. The Soma cemetery is now the site of constant grave-digging. Men worked furiously with shovels and pickaxes to fill the plots after bodies were lowered into the ground; the names of the dead written on small yellow placards fastened to a wooden stick, and placed in the dirt.

Zacharya, Muhammet and Mehmet - the list goes on. Row upon row of empty graves awaited those who still need to be laid to rest. Brothers wept for their siblings, women screamed for their husbands; but the sadness quickly lead to anger.

OZLAM CIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Ozlam Cil is 26 and wept over the graves before erupting with rage. Her husband is a miner and she's worried one day he, too, will die in a mining accident.

CIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: She says, I just got married. Am I doing to come here to bury him with a baby in my hands? Every day they are going to their death. Her anger is focused on the country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. She blames him for failing to make the mine safe, despite numerous accidents in the past. On Wednesday, he came to Soma, but took no blame.

CIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He just said that happens in mines, he said. How could he say it so cold-bloodedly?

CIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: No one could stop these people, she says, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party because you keep voting for them, she screams at the men around her in the graveyard, accusing them of voting for the party to safeguard their jobs at the mines. Where are they now, she asks. They all ran away to Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAN AND WOMAN ARGUING)

FADEL: Another man shushes her. I'm the one burying someone today, he says, and you're talking about politics. The exchange is a window into the political ramifications for the prime minister who is expected to make a run for the presidency in August. Away from the graveyard and the talk of politics, a mix of palpable sadness and quiet anticipation filled the crowd watching the continuing search and rescue operations at the entrance of the mine.

A group of women wait behind the police barricades. Among them is one who repeats, God willing, he's alive. God willing, he's alive, as a policeman comforts her. She's waiting for news of her missing son. She's too upset to give her name. Soon, another body is pulled from the mine. The ambulance pulls up and paramedics load the body into the vehicle. Hope is running out here.

Do you think anyone is alive down there?

HAKAN IYKUL: No. Impossible. Impossible.

FADEL: Hakan Iykul is with the search and rescue teams and is a mining engineer. He's about to take a break after 38 hours of nonstop work. But for more than a day, he's only found dead men inside the mine. He believes accidents like these are avoidable.

IYKUL: It's not right. There is very, very big, big problem. We have to accept this. If you don't accept this, we don't need these accidents again and again and again and again.

FADEL: He hasn't told family members waiting outside the mine what he really believes, that their missing loved ones are gone. Leila Fadel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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