As the death toll in Turkey’s worst mining disaster rose to nearly 300 on Thursday, Turkish unions said they would hold a one-day strike to protest lax mine safety.
Thousands have taken to the streets across the country, with protests reported in Istanbul, the capital Ankara, Izmir and Zonguldak, among other places.
Clashes have been reported in Izmir, where police reportedly fired water cannons and tear gas at around 200,000 protesters. Kani Beko, the general secretary of the head of Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, was taken to the hospital after the police crackdown.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for presidential elections in August, made a speech Wednesday in Soma, where the mine is located, that was met with sharp criticism.
He barely mentioned mine safety and compared the tragedy to 100-year-old mining disasters in the West, saying "these things happen." Protesters booed and taunted Erdoğan and trashed the local offices of his AKP party.
Online, a photo of what appeared to be an assistant to the prime minister kicking a protester emerged Wednesday. It has since gone viral both within Turkey and internationally, sparking political outrage.
Yusuf Yerkel, the man believed to be in the photo, confirmed Thursday that it was him and plans to make a statement.
A video of a woman allegedly punched by Erdoğan during a supermarket scuffle in Soma on Wednesday has recently been shared. The woman has been partially identified as Hatice G. There are unconfirmed reports that her father was killed in the mine and that she had shouted "murderer" at the prime minister.
In Soma, thousands of family members and co-workers have gathered outside the local hospital. Loudspeakers on street corners, once used by the local government to announce news, are now being used to share the names of the dead and give funeral details, Reuters reports. Mass graves have also been dug by excavators.
At the mine, President Abdullah Gul arrived Thursday just as the country was beginning its three-day mourning period.
“Unfortunately our loss is great. We have to show a huge solidarity to bind up the wounds,” Gul told Hurriyet Daily News. “We have to review all the norms the same way to reduce the risks of such pain to the same level as developed countries. No doubt, everything necessary will be done so as not to suffer such pain ever again.”
Demonstrations began Wednesday, a day after a coal mine explosion ignited underground fires that has led to more than 280 deaths. Officials say the death toll can rise to above 400 as more bodies emerge from the Soma mine. There are believed to be 150 miners still underground, and no survivors have been rescued since Wednesday morning.
According to Alex Thomson, the chief correspondent for Channel 4 News, rescue workers found 14 bodies in the mine’s rescue chamber.
Fourteen bodies found in the only refuge chamber in the mine - they'd shared oxygen masks in turn before they all died...
— alex thomson (@alextomo) May 15, 2014
Rescue workers saved at least 88 miners soon after a power transformer blew up Tuesday during a shift change at the mine that sparked a choking fire deep inside. Autopsies on dozens of bodies revealed the miners had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
A group of engineers who have been investigating the cause of the explosion say it was due to negligence.
"The fire was not caused by an electrical situation, as presented to the public in the first statements," a local branch of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers said, in a statement Wednesday, according to CNN, adding: "The inspection revealed that the systems to sense poisonous and explosive gases in the mine and the systems to manage the air systems were insufficient and old."