The operator of a mine in western Turkey denied negligence in the country's worst mining disaster on record as a top official warned Friday that the death toll could exceed 300 and said it plans to keep on mining after it addresses the issues behind the catastrophe.

The denial of neglience by the mine's owner, Soma Holding, fueled anger on Twitter over the country's poor worker safety record and uncertainty over what exactly caused the accident.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that there are still as many as 18 miners underground who rescuers haven't been able to reach because of a fire that has been burning since Tuesday's accident. Hopes dwindled that the remaining miners will be found alive, and their removal would likely boost the death toll, which now stands at 284, Yildiz said.

Angry Turks shared several images on Twitter, including of the Soma population sign, where a graffitist etched “-302+?” over the official population figure of 105,000, in reference to what is expected to be the final death toll. 




Site manager Akın Çelik denied that negligence contributed or caused the fire.

“There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I did not witness such an incident,” Çelik was quoted as saying on Friday during a news conference relayed in the English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

Mine officials conceded that there was no refuge chamber in the mine, but they also said there was an escape point close to the ground that allows workers to escape without walking through the main entrance. The cause of the fire remained unclear as of Friday.

"We still do not know how the accident happened. There is no negligence of ours in this incident,” Çelik told the BBC. "We want to find answers as well. We have never faced such conditions, such circumstances. We haven't slept for three days because we're first trying to save lives."

That explanation didn't ease the pain of the miner's relatives and other Turks who continued to protest at the mine, where police in riot gear met them with tear gas, plastic pellets and water cannons.

Murat Çekiç, director of Amnesty International in Turkey, shared photos of the scene on Twitter:







Other Twitter users directed their anger toward Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who was accused of downplaying the tragedy, punching a protester and not doing enough to address the country's poor worker safety record.