SOMA, Turkey (AP) — The death toll in the coal mine explosion and fire in western Turkey increased to 232 on Wednesday, the prime minister said. The fate of around 190 miners remained unclear in one of Turkey's worst mining disasters.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement Wednesday during a visit to the coal mine in Soma, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul.
Earlier, Erdogan declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff. Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania and visited Soma instead.
The explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside the mine than usual.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.
In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the company which owns the mine, Soma Holding.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma at the time of the explosion and 363 of them had been rescued so far.
"Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing," Yildiz said.
Turkey's Labor and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, including in March of 2014, and that no issues violating work safety and security were detected.
The country's main opposition party said that Erdogan's ruling party had recently voted down a proposal for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry into a series of small scale accidents at mines around Soma.