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

Johannesburg - The National Union of Mineworkers is shocked and saddened by the death of over 200 coal mine workers in Turkey, it said on Wednesday.

“We pray for those workers who are still trapped underground to come out healthy and alive. We appeal to the rescue teams to do their best to fast track the operation of searching for those who are still trapped underground,” NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said in a statement.

“This tragedy must rank as the worst mining tragedy in recent memory, and is made all the more tragic by the seemingly uncaring attitude of the government and mining companies. This attitude is unacceptable and must come to an end.”

Baleni said it was intolerable that mine workers in Turkey were denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guaranteed their safety.

French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) that scores of workers were trapped in the collapsed mine and the death toll had risen to 245.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected claims of government culpability, AFP reported.

“We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history,” Erdogan reportedly told reporters after visiting the mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province.

He said figures remained uncertain but mining operators thought 120 workers were still trapped following Tuesday's explosion, caused by an electrical fault.

The NUM sent condolences to the families of the deceased, trapped and injured.