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274 dead in Turkey's worst-ever mine disaster


SOMA, Turkey (AP) a¿¿ Amid wails of grief and anger, rescue workers coated in grime trudged repeatedly out of a coal mine Wednesday with stretchers of bodies that swelled the death toll to 274 a¿¿ the worst such disaster in Turkish history.

Hopes faded for 150 others still trapped deep underground in smoldering tunnels filled with toxic gases.

Anti-government protests broke out in the mining town of Soma, as well as Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heckled as he tried to show concern. Protesters shouted "Murderer!" and "Thief!" and Erdogan was forced to seek refuge in a supermarket, surrounded by police.

The display of anger could have significant repercussions for the Turkish leader, who is widely expected to run for president in the August election, although he has yet to announce his candidacy.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the mine's entrance Wednesday, waiting for news amid a heavy police presence. Rows of women wailed uncontrollably and men knelt sobbing or simply stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed body after body, some charred beyond recognition.

One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police had to restrain him from climbing into an ambulance with the body. An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion: 274 died and 363 were rescued, including scores who were injured.

The death toll topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey's Black Sea port of Zonguldak. It also left 150 miners still unaccounted for.

Yildiz said rescue workers were trying late Wednesday to reach the bodies of up to 22 people trapped in one zone. Some of the workers were 1,400 feet (420 meters) deep inside the mine, he said.

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