05/17/2014, 00.00
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As miners slam poor safety, more bodies pulled from mine

A new fire broke out today in the mine, halting recovery operations. The government announces investigation but denies responsibility. The mining company does the same. Miners say safety inspections were poorly done. Available oxygen masks had not been tested for years. shaft pathways were too narrow and steep. One survivor talks about his experience. Out of 150 people in his group, only 15 survived.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - As the death toll from the Soma mine disaster has now reached 299, a new fire broke out this morning, forcing rescue teams to stop their work to recover bodies.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said that three bodies still have to be pulled out. In all, 485 miners managed to escape or were rescued following last Tuesday's coal mine explosion in Western Turkey.

The high number of deaths has however sparked rage across the country. In Soma about 1,500 demonstrators took to the streets to protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with police using tear gas and water cannon to disperse them. More demonstrations were reported in Istanbul and Izmir.

The government has asked for a parliamentary inquiry but has rejected charges of negligence. So has the mining company, Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS.

Meanwhile, survivors are starting to tell their stories and point fingers. Erdal Bicák, 24, said he had just ended his shift on Tuesday and was making his way to the surface when mine managers ordered him back down because of a problem.

"The company is guilty," he told the Associated Press. "Managers have machines that measure methane gas levels, and the new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time."

Bicak said the last inspection at the Soma mine was six months ago. Inspectors only visited the top 100 metres and never saw what was below. The incident occurred at 2 kilometres below ground.

The miner was about a kilometre underground with 150 others when he heard the explosion. He said they were given old oxygen masks, but he thought they had not been checked in many years.

In the end, Bicak and a friend found an exit, but there was a lot of smoke, and it was very narrow and steep. He said he and his friend took turns slapping each other to stay conscious.

After moments of despair, when it seemed that they were to going to die, they managed to reach the surface, in a confused state, lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Out of the group of 150 in his section of the mine, only 15 made it out alive.

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