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Iranian president's car besieged at mining disaster site

TEHRAN // Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani faced angry protests from victims’ families on Sunday when he visited the site of a mine accident that killed dozens of people — two weeks before he stands for re-election.

Angry coal miners besieged his car after he visited the site of a deadly mine explosion in Iran’s northern Golestan province that killed dozens on Wednesday.

At least 26 people were confirmed dead, with at least nine more miners still trapped inside after Wednesday’s explosion, but officials say there is little chance they have survived.

Semi-official news agencies reported that at least 35 people were killed, while Iranian officials say they have recovered 22 bodies and the search continues.

In a rare protest targeting the nation’s top elected official, the miners — some covered in coal soot from searching for fallen comrades still missing — began kicking and banging on the armoured SUV carrying Mr Rouhani. Video posted online by the semi-official Fars news agency showed one miner on the SUV’s roof, another jumping up and down and kicking its hood.

“Dear brothers! I beg you wait for a couple of minutes!” someone shouts during the video.

Mr Rouhani’s SUV eventually nudges its way through the crowd amid the shouting. Another miner rushes up to kick the back of it as it sped away down a hill.

Local news agencies showed family members shouting at the president and hitting his car as he visited the site in Golestan.

“The entire Iranian nation shares the sorrow of families of those killed in the Zemestan Yort mine accident,” Mr Rouhani said, according to the government’s website.

“Those responsible and anyone who had a fault in the incident must be found and dealt with accordingly, without any exceptions.”

The accident is thought to have been caused by concentrated methane gas that was triggered when workers tried to jump-start an engine.

Workers and families are angry over poor safety conditions, but also over delayed wages — a common problem in factories and industrial enterprises across the country due to the struggling economy.

Labour minister Ali Rabii travelled 1,400 metres deep into the mine earlier, where rescue teams have been trying to unblock the collapsed tunnel.

The president has ordered a task force to investigate the causes of the explosion and handle compensation for victims and their families.

“We are all responsible in this incident,” said Mr Rouhani, calling for tighter regulations in the mining sector.

Mr Rouhani’s visit to the mining disaster site comes ahead of Iran’s May 19 presidential election.

He remains the favourite in the election as every Iranian president since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself took the presidency in 1981 has won re-election.

However, many in the country remain discontent as the benefits of the nuclear deal with world powers have yet to trickle down to the average Iranian.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

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