Politicians cancel foreign visits, go instead to Soma

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Turkish government officials and several politicians canceled their foreign visits on Wednesday and have gone to Soma, where a deadly explosion took place this week at a coal mine.

President Abdullah Gul is expected to visit Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa, on May 15. Gul was scheduled to pay an official visit to China between May 15-21 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jingping, to discuss bilateral ties and attend a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan also went to Soma, canceling a one-day visit to Albania, to oversee rescue efforts on Wednesday. Parliament Speaker Cemil iek also canceled his planned visit to the US from May 16-22.

The accident occurred when miners were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which will have raised the casualty toll because there were more workers in the mine than usual. The explosion, which triggered a fire, occurred shortly after 3:00 p.m. (12:00 GMT) on Tuesday. Hundreds more are still believed to be trapped in the mine. Energy Minister Taner YIldIz said that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and voiced fears that the death toll could end up being much higher than the latest count.

Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoIlu did not cancel his visit to Sarajevo, where he paid a visit to the Sarajevo Business Forum. “We had scheduled a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. He [ErdoIan] wanted me to visit the country,” DavutoIlu said on Wednesday.

DavutoIlu reported ErdoIan as saying, “This is a sad day for our nation. However, you should visit [Bosnia-Herzegovina]. The fate of Bosnia and the Balkans is our fate as well.” The foreign minister added that the families of the victims would also want him to visit Sarajevo.

Almost all political party leaders have canceled their planned programs. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal KIlIdaroIlu canceled a visit to the UK while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Baheli changed his schedule and also went to Soma on Wednesday.

The owner of SOMA Holding has so far declined to speak to the press about the disaster. SOMA Holding CEO Alp Gurkan said that he will discuss the issue with Energy Minister YIldIz in the days to come.

Prime Minister ErdoIan has ordered Turkish flags to be flown at half-mast and declared a three-day national mourning period for the 200 workers killed in the coal mine blast.

Turkish unions have called for a nationwide strike on Thursday to protest the Soma deaths and to call for increased safety measures for workplaces. Celebrations for May 19, Commemoration of Ataturk and Youth and Sports Day, have also been canceled following the disaster. Only the main ceremony will be held in Ankara.

International leaders have extended condolences for the victims of the mine blast. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev conveyed condolences to ErdoIan and Gul in a phone call on Wednesday. US President Barack Obama’s National Security Council (NSC) shared a message via its Twitter account on Wednesday. “Heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in #Manisa mine collapse our thoughts are [with] people of Turkey and those still trapped,” the tweet read.

Pope Francis has also expressed condolences to the families of the Soma mine victims, adding that he is praying for those who are still trapped inside the mine.


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