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Turkish unions call for strike after mine tragedy

Soma, Turkey - Four Turkish labour unions called for a national one-day strike on Thursday in protest against the country's worst industrial disaster that killed at least 282 people in a coal mine in western Turkey.

Representing workers in a range of industries, the unions are furious over what they say are poor safety standards since the formerly state-run mine in Soma, located about 480km south-west of Istanbul, was leased to a private firm.

An injured miner is carried to an ambulance after being rescued from a coal mine in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, on May 14, 2014. Picture: Emre Tazegul. Credit: Reuters

“Hundreds of our worker brothers in Soma have been left to die from the very start by being forced to work in brutal production processes in order to achieve maximum profits,” a statement from the unions said.

“We call on the working class, labourers and friends of labourers to stand up for our brothers in Soma,” it said, urging people to wear black.

As rescuers pulled dead bodies from the site and hopes dimmed for another hundred workers still believed to be trapped inside, anger swept a country which has boasted a decade of rapid economic growth but still suffers from of the world's worst workplace safety standards.

Furious residents broke windows at the local government offices in Soma on Wednesday, heckled Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan when he visited the site and jostled his entourage. Pockets of protests erupted in Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

The nation's previous worst accident was in 1992, when a gas blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.

The rescue operation was hampered late on Wednesday as the fire inside the mine continued, making it extremely hazardous for the rescue crew to retrieve bodies.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the ventilation systems which pumped fresh air into the mine had been relocated and that the teams were getting ready to go back inside.

But more than 40 hours have passed since the fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, and both government officials and rescue workers see little chance of more survivors coming out alive. - Reuters

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