Photographer: Mostafa Hassanzadeh/AFP via Getty Images

Iran's Rouhani Faces Anguished Coal Miners After Explosion

  • President traveled to northern province to console families
  • Authorities say miners were trapped by blast, 35 died

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced anguished miners Sunday as he visited a coal mine where an explosion last week killed more than three dozen men.

Rouhani, the moderate cleric seeking re-election May 19, “insisted” on traveling to northern Golestan province to review the disaster and speak with the families of those who died, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. Some 35 men were killed in the Wednesday blast that trapped workers, according to state media reports. Twenty-two bodies have been retrieved while the search is ongoing.

Rouhani visits the Azadshahr coal mine, May 7.

Source: Iranian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A video released by the conservative news agency Tasnim showed the president’s car being surrounded by men as it arrived at the mine. One worker addressed Rouhani, who’s head can be seen sticking out of the top of the car.

“We worked here for 22 years,” the man, wearing a yellow helmet, said, according to the video. “None of you know what a miner is, now you remember and turn up here?” A miner makes 10 million rials ($308) while working, and a retired miner after two decades gets 14 million, the man is shown as saying. “Honestly, can you live on that?” he asks.

A video posted by the state-run Fars news agency showed a car being encircled by miners, with one man atop the vehicle. Other men are seen chanting “it’s a day of mourning” while a voice is heard telling them: “Dear brothers, please wait a few minutes.”

Rouhani, who has focused his campaign on his role in reaching a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that ended economic sanctions, is being criticized by opponents who accuse him of putting foreign investment ahead of meeting the needs of low-income Iranians. The Sunday incident could be used by his conservative rivals to show the president is out of touch with a portion of society.

“170 kids are now orphans, 40 women have become widows, we don’t know what to do,” said the man, whose voice breaks as someone tries to calm him down, according to Tasnim. “I am in pain, my heart is full, let me speak: Mr. President, where were you until now?"

The incident made the front page of several newspapers on Monday, with those who oppose Rouhani displaying it as proof that the president had failed Iranians. Papers supportive of his policies, such as the reformist daily Aftab, said it showed his willingness to face criticism.

(Updates with newspaper reaction in last paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the currency conversion in the fourth paragraph.)
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