In this industrial town, where coal mining has been the main industry for decades, Erdogan's ties to mining leaders were vehemently noted. Townspeople said the wife of the Soma mine's boss works for Erdogan's party and the boss himself had skipped town.
"They are trying to look like they care, but they are not helping anyone. There is no urgency, even now. People blame Tayyip," Nergiz said.
In downtown Soma, protesters, most in their teens and 20s, faced off against riot police in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters, smashing its windows with rocks.
"Our prime minister is a dictator," said 16-year-old Melih Atik. "Neither the government nor the company took precautions in the mine, and everyone knows that's why this happened."
Erdogan has been dogged by corruption allegations and was forced to oust four government ministers in December after they were implicated in a police bribery probe. The scandal deepened after audio recordings were posted on the Internet suggesting corruption by the prime minister and his family members. Erdogan denies the allegations and says they are a plot to discredit his government.
In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri A.S. Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a group who tried to march to the city's iconic Taksim Square to denounce poor safety conditions.
Police also dispersed a group marching to the energy ministry in Ankara to protest the deaths.
Fences were erected and police stood guard outside Soma's hospital, where scores of the injured were being treated. Some residents said the men were being pressured by the mining company not to talk about the blast.
Authorities said the disaster followed an explosion and fire at a power distribution unit and most deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Erdogan promised the tragedy would be investigated to its "smallest detail" and that "no negligence will be ignored."
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Tuesday's explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, which likely raised the casualty toll.
Turkey's Labor and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, most recently in March, and that no safety violations were detected. But the country's main opposition party said Erdogan's ruling party had recently voted down a proposal to hold a parliamentary inquiry into a series of small-scale accidents at the mines around Soma.
Emine Gulsen sat with other women Wednesday near the entrance to the mine, where her missing son, 31-year-old Mehmet Gulsen, has worked for five years.
"My son is gone! My Mehmet!" she wailed over and over.
Mehmet's aunt, Makbule Dag, still held out some hope.
"God willing" he will be rescued, she said.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press Writer Berza Simsek in Soma also contributed to this report.
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