SOMA, Turkey -- With passport-sized photographs of their loved ones fastened to their chests, family members of men killed in Turkey's worst mining accident shuffled toward the cemetery Thursday, in a mourning ritual repeated for hours. At least 30 miners were buried, as gravediggers toiled to make room for the bodies of many men still trapped underground.
Two days after a suspected explosion sparked a fire in the Soma coal mine, this town was wracked with grief over the 284 deaths confirmed so far, with frustration at the slow pace of recovering bodies and with anger at government officials who seemed incapable of offering comfort or answers.
Eight more bodies were retrieved Thursday, with at least 140 miners believed to be trapped still. Officials and mine workers said there is little chance that the remaining men, stuck in chambers deep underground, have survived.
On Thursday, five labor unions called for a one-day nationwide strike, demanding better health and safety standards for miners. They also said mine inspectors should be drawn from labor unions and include independent experts not employed by the mining corporations. The mine at Soma was formerly state-run but was privatized almost a decade ago.
In this mining town about 75 miles northeast of the Aegean port city of Izmir, thousands of residents work in the region's coal mines, magnifying the scale of the disaster. Public discontent has swelled as the victims' families have demanded answers from the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Erdogan was forced to take refuge at a supermarket during his Soma visit Wednesday, after angry crowds scuffled with police and called the prime minister a murderer and a thief. Turkish newspapers published a photograph Thursday of one of Mr. Erdogan's aides kicking a protester who was being held on the ground by police special forces during the protests.
The aide, Yusuf Yerkel, later apologized for failing to "restrain myself despite all the provocations, insults and attacks I was subjected to," according to the semiofficial Anadolu News Agency.
The privatization of mines had led to a sharp increase in accidents "because profit is always more valuable than miners' lives in the private sector," said Umar Karatepe, spokesman for the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey. He said protests would continue until Energy Minister Taner Yildiz resigned and the government attended to the miners' immediate concerns.
Mine workers have harshly criticized the Soma mining company since the accident, accusing it of lax safety standards. In a statement Thursday, the company said it had been a model for worker safety, and that the mine had been inspected every six months. The last inspection was in March, the company said.
The death toll has now surpassed that of a mine accident on the Black Sea in 1992 that killed 263 workers.
At the entrance to Soma's municipal cemetery Thursday, with the smell of dead bodies in the air, volunteers passed out Turkish delights and other refreshments, a customary duty to funeral guests. A portion of the cemetery that had been overgrown was hastily prepared to receive the victims, with workers digging the graves in long, parallel lines.
Religious leaders shouted directions over loudspeakers. "Please do not block the road," one said. "Many more bodies are on the way."