By Can Merey and Shabtai Gold, McClatchy Tribune News Service
ISTANBUL — Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the Turkish government as the number of dead rose to 274 in what is likely to become the country’s worst mining disaster.
The initially peaceful demonstrations turned ugly when police set loose water cannon and tear gas as protesters marched closer to central Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The demonstrators accused the government of murder in its handling of Tuesday’s tragedy at the Soma coal mine.
In Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon against several hundred students who had gathered at the Energy Ministry. Protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the security forces. There were smaller demonstrations in Soma led by family and friends of the victims.
A number of funerals were held, but the majority of the bodies had not been identified. Relatives and loved-ones waited into the late evening Wednesday outside a regional hospital that was serving as a morgue.
Funeral vehicles with empty coffins inside waited near the hospital for bodies.
The Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions called for workers to strike Thursday in honor of the victims.
Questions were being raised about the mine’s safety record, with local media reporting that the ruling Justice and Development Party had rejected a call by the opposition in parliament last month to review safety at the mine.
Mine operator Soma Holding said a safety test had been carried out two months ago.
In Soma, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said hopes that rescue teams would find further survivors were fading. “It is worse than initially expected,” he said.