As the death toll from one of Turkey's worst mining disasters climbed to more than 200 on Wednesday, questions were being asked about why lawmakers rejected a parliamentary motion to investigate mine safety two weeks ago.
At least 245 miners were killed when a power distribution unit exploded Tuesday at a coal mine in the western town of Soma, spreading flames and smoke through a network of tunnels hundreds of yards underground, according to government officials. Rescue efforts were underway to reach at least 120 others who were feared trapped in the still-smoldering pit.
Many of the deaths were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters.
"Our hopes are fading," Yildiz said in comments broadcast live from the scene of the tragedy. "The fire is continuing."
Relatives clustered around the mine's entrance, watching bodies being carried out on stretchers. Covers were briefly pulled back from the victim's faces to give family members an opportunity to identify the dead, news reports said.
Photographs posted on Twitter from inside a morgue showed scores of miners, their bodies blackened by soot and smoke, laid out on the floor. Other images showed men praying next to a line of freshly-dug graves that snaked through a local cemetery.
Questions were raised last year about a high number of work-related accidents at coal mines in Soma, and opposition parties called for a commission to investigate. But the parliamentary motion was reportedly blocked by deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Protesters ransacked the party's office in Soma on Tuesday, reportedly chanting, "State murder."
In Istanbul, demonstrators lay down in the tunnels of a central subway. Police in the capital, Ankara, used tear gas and water cannons to disperse university students who were marching to the Energy Ministry.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said the mine, which produces a reported 250,000 tons of coal per month, recently passed a safety inspection.