Turkish police clash with protesters in mine disaster town

Water cannons, tear gas disperse crowd of several thousand

SOMA, Turkey (Reuters) — Turkish police fired water cannon and tear gas on Friday to disperse a crowd of several thousand protesters in the town of Soma, where close to 300 people died in the country's worst ever mining disaster this week, a Reuters witness said.

People scattered into side streets as the police intervened on a commercial street lined with shops and banks, as well as the offices of the local government and labour union.

Anger has swept Turkey as the extent of the disaster became clear, with protests partly directed at mine owners accused of prioritising profit over safety, and partly at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, seen as too cosy with industry tycoons and too lax in enforcing regulations.

"No coal can warm the children of fathers who died in the mine," read one hand-written sign among the crowd, which had been trying to march towards a statue honouring miners in the centre of the town when the route was blocked by the police.

Fire sent carbon monoxide coursing through the coal mine within minutes on Tuesday but the exact cause of the disaster remains unclear, the mine operator said on Friday.

Most of the 787 workers inside had oxygen masks but smoke and gas spread so quickly that many were unable to escape, with 284 confirmed dead and 18 believed still to be trapped.

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