Protesters, police clash in Turkey amid mounting questions in mine fire

Yusuf Yerkel, an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicks a person who is being wrestled to the ground by two police officers during protests in Soma, Turkey, on Wednesday, May 14. Hundreds have taken to the streets across the country since nearly 300 miners died in a mine fire near Soma on May 13, protesting the government and a lack of safety regulations. Unions have called for strikes May 15.

Police in Soma, Turkey, used tear gas, plastic pellets and a water cannon Friday on protesters angry over the government's response to a coal mine fire that killed at least 298 people.
Protesters chanting "Don't sleep, Soma, remember your dead!" coursed through city streets a few miles from the disaster site, trying to reach a statue honoring miners.
The clash came two days after a photograph surfaced of an aide to Turkey's Prime Minister kicking a protester, an image that quickly became a symbol of the anger felt by many against the government, and amid mounting questions over safety practices at the mine. The complex exploded into fire for unknown reasons Tuesday -- trapping many miners deep underground.
Among other issues, mine officials indicated Friday that workers may not have had access to an emergency refuge where they could have sheltered from the flames and choking fumes.
Site manager Akin Celik told reporters that the mine had closed one emergency refuge when excavation work moved to a lower area. Miners were building, but had not finished, a new safety chamber at the lower level, he said.
The owner of the company, Alp Gurman, said the mine met the highest standards laid out by the law in Turkey. The company, he said, had no legal obligation to build safety chambers.
Early Satuday, the Natural Disaster and Emergency Coordination Directorate said the number of dead in the mining disaster is now 298. It wasn't immediately clear how many miners may still be inside; authorities earlier said 18 remained trapped.
If and when they are found, hopes have dwindled that they'll be alive. Rescue workers haven't found anyone alive since Wednesday.
Smoke and fumes were still hindering search and recovery efforts Friday, officials said.
Authorities have previously said the fire was sparked by a transformer explosion, but Celik told reporters Friday that the cause of the fire was still unknown.
Asked what had happened, he said, "We don't know either. Never seen anything like this before. We are trying to find out."
Kicking a protester
Friday's clashes are likely to further anger Soma residents already seething over the disaster and the treatment of the protester kicked by Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The man, detained by special forces, can be seen lying on the ground as the suited adviser to Erdogan appears to aim a kick at him.
The shocking image outraged many in Turkey, prompting an outpouring of anger on social media, and is seen as symbolizing the increasingly polarizing impact of Erdogan's authority in the country.
Yerkel was quoted by Turkey's semiofficial Anadolu news agency Thursday as saying that he had been deeply saddened by the previous day's events.
"I am sad that I could not keep my calm in the face of all the provocation, insults and attacks that I was subjected to that day," he reportedly said.
In another incident Wednesday, video footage showed a crowd outside a grocery store angrily booing Erdogan. As the Prime Minister entered the crowded store, he appeared to put his arm around the neck of a man who was later identified as a miner.
After the confrontation, the video captured what appeared to be Erdogan's security guards beating the same man to the floor. The miner said later that Erdogan slapped him, possibly by mistake. He wants an apology for the way he was treated by the Prime Minister's staff.
Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, dismissed the grocery store incident and said the image of Yerkel kicking the protester was misleading.
Political bonfire
Besides the anger prompted by the photo, Erdogan's comments Wednesday to relatives of dead and injured miners were seen as highly insensitive and drew scathing criticism.

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