World Bulletin/News Desk
The United States offered assistance to the Turkish government on Wednesday after a mine disaster that killed at least 238 people.
The explosion and fire at a mine in Soma, Turkey, is likely to be Turkey's worst ever industrial disaster.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Turkey today in the wake of a coal mine explosion in Soma in which some 200 have been killed and hundreds more remain trapped," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Carney said Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States.
"We are ready to assist the Turkish government if necessary and we will continue to stand together in this time of tragedy," he said.
As images of soot-smeared survivors and grieving families were beamed around the world, the accident threw the spotlight on Turkey's poor record on workplace safety and on what the government's critics say is its wilfully lax regulation.
The Labour Ministry said late on Tuesday its officials had carried out regular inspections at the Soma mine, most recently in March, and that no irregularities had been detected.
The mine's operator, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, defended its working practices on Wednesday, saying its staff were unionised and all had insurance and social security benefits, and that its site was inspected every six months.
But the firm has made clear its ambition to cut costs since taking over the mine in 2005.
Soma Holding owner Alp Gurkan was quoted as telling the Hurriyet daily in 2012 that his company had vowed to extract coal at just a fifth of the price incurred by the state.
"Our engineers and workers didn't come from outer space. It's just a matter of good planning and implementing the private sector working style," he was quoted as saying.
He said the state-run Turkish Coal Enterprises extracted coal in Soma at a cost of around $130-140 per tonne but Soma Holding guaranteed it would extract coal at a cost of $23.8 per tonne when it took over mines there in 2005.
Such talk had long worried workers in Soma, a closely-knit mining district, more than a tenth of whose 105,000-strong population is employed by the industry.
"We were feeling at risk after the privatisation. What they care about is making more money at the end of the day," said Hasan Dogan, 27, a relative of one of the men still trapped, watching news reports in a canteen outside Soma's hospital.
"We have nothing to do but pray to Allah to deliver justice to those responsible," he said.
Erkan Akcay, a local MP for the opposition MHP, said Erdogan's AK Party had failed to heed warnings on mine safety and that privatisation, subcontracting and leasing practices, along with inadequate inspections, had caused a rise in accidents.
"The accident statistics in some private mining companies in Soma are blood-curdling," he said in a statement on his website, adding there were 5,000 workplace accidents last year in Soma alone, 90 percent of them in mines.
"The responsibility for the deaths of our workers in Soma is on the shoulders of AKP deputies now making statements on television," he said.
Akcay said workers died an average of 8.5 times more frequently in Turkey than in the European Union, of which Turkey aspires to be a member. There were 880,000 work accidents between 2002 and 2013, 13,442 of them fatal.
Workers' Families Seeking Justice, an advocacy group for labour safety in Turkey, said at least 1,233 Turks were killed in the course of their work in 2013.
In the mining sector, 61 people died in 2012, according to the International Labour Organization, which ranked Turkey the worst in Europe and third worst in the world for workers' deaths that year. Between 2002 and 2012, the death toll at Turkish mines totalled more than 1,000.
Turkey's deadliest accident to date was in 1992, when a gas blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Mayıs 2014, 23:16