A miner cries as rescue workers carry the dead body of a miner from the mine in Soma, western Turkey, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Violence has erupted in the industrial town of Soma, Turkey, the site of a mine collapse that killed at least 238 workers, as relatives of the dead and missing direct their rage at the Turkish government.
"These are usual things," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday, one day after the blast in the coal mine.
"I went back in British history. Some 204 people died there after a mine collapse in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there,” Erdoğan said, inexplicably ticking off mining disasters from 19th century England. The remarks echo a speech the prime minister gave in 2010 when 30 miners died in a coal mine incident in Zonguldak. He called their deaths "fate," then, which also sparked protests over their insensitivity.
As he spoke on Wednesday, crowds gathered outside the Soma Municipality building,chanting, "Government: resign!" while whistling and booing at his remarks.
Erdoğan then left the building to confront the crowd, creating a chaotic scene that led to him fleeing into a supermarket. Protesters threw rocks and fire bombs at police, who reportedly responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Now the protests are spreading throughout Turkey. A group hosted a die-in protest in Istanbul as others gathered outside the mining company's office. In the country's west, protesters donned miner's hats in a demonstration.
Diyarbakir'da yagmur altinda Soma eylemi suruyor pic.twitter.com/o0BjUs4hSu— Zubeyde Sarı (@ZubeydeSari) May 14, 2014
In Wednesday's speech, Erdoğan vowed that his government would thoroughly investigate the accident, Hurriyet Daily News reported, while emphasizing that the mine was one of Turkey's safest.
But Ercan Akkaya, a Turkish union organizer, told NBC News that it "was not an accident."
"It happened because not enough is ever done to protect workers. The government is complicit in these deaths, in our tragedy," she said. "Since 2006, almost 11,000 workers in Turkey have died while doing their jobs.”
In April, a member of Turkey's Parliament filed a motion asking for an inquiry into recent accidents in Soma's coal mines, according to Hurriyet Daily News. It was reportedly rejected.
Nearly 800 miners were believed to be inside the coal mine at the time it exploded. More than 100 miners are believed to be trapped inside — and authorities are losing hope that they'll continue to find survivors.
“I can say that our hopes are diminishing," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. “Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out. That is what we are waiting for.”