A mining company has defended its safety record four days after at least 284 people died in a blaze at a pit in western Turkey.
A maximum of 18 miners remain missing and the final death toll will be around 300, the country’s energy minister said.
The mining company’s owner, Alp Gurkan, said he had spent his own money on improving standards at the pit. “I am hurting inside,” he told a news conference.
Turkey’s worst mining disaster has set off a wave of protests against what is perceived as official laxity and corruption.
The public anger has stirred up new hostility toward Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which was sharply criticised for last summer’s brutal response to protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and its crackdown earlier this year on social media.
“It’s not an accident, it’s murder,” read a banner waved by trade unionists who marched through the streets of Istanbul.
Responding to the public outcry, energy minister Taner Yildiz said anyone found to have been negligent about safety at the mine can expect punishment. “We won’t take any notice of their tears,” he added.
The mining company said the exact cause of the accident is still not known but denied any wrongdoing.
“There is no negligence,” said Soma mine engineer Akin Celik. “I have been doing this job for 20 years but I have never seen anything like this. We would not want harm to come to a single fingernail of our workers.”
Ramazan Dogru, the mine’s manager, rejected initial reports that claimed the fire was caused by an explosion at a power distribution unit. “It was caused by an undetermined spark,” he said.