MAC: Mines and Communities

Turkish mine disaster: eighteen arrested

Published by MAC on 2014-05-14
Source: BBC, Guardian, Daily News (2014-05-18)

Turkey mine disaster: 18 arrested over Soma deaths

BBC

18 May 2014

Police investigating the coal mine disaster in western Turkey have arrested 18 people, including mining company executives, Turkish media say.

The rescue operation at the mine, in the town of Soma, ended on Saturday after the bodies of the last two workers were recovered.

The final death toll is 301, making it Turkey's worst mining disaster.

Protests against the government and mining company have broken out since Tuesday's disaster.

Soma Holding insists it was not caused by negligence.

Those arrested on Sunday included Ramazan Dogru, general manager of the mine, and its operations manager Akin Celik, Turkey's Dogan news agency said.

Anti-government demonstrations have broken out in several cities since the disaster

Tuesday's disaster occurred when an explosion sent carbon monoxide gas into the mine's tunnels while 787 miners were underground.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised for appearing insensitive in his reaction to the disaster.

Both Mr Erdogan and his aide Yusuf Yerkel have come under pressure after photos that appeared to show them assaulting protesters were published in Turkish media.

A heavy police presence descended on Soma on Saturday, setting up checkpoints and detaining dozens of people to enforce a ban on protests.

Security in the town remained tight on Sunday, Reuters news agency says.


Turkey mine disaster: police use riot tactics at protests about mine safety

Teargas and plastic bullets used on protesters at scene of worst industrial accident amid anger at PM's offhand remarks towards victims

Guardian

17 May 2014

Turkish police used teargas, plastic bullets and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who gathered on Friday at the scene of the country's worst industrial accident to protest the country's dismal work safety record, and the prime minister's apparently offhand attitude towards victims of the catastrophe.

After Tuesday's explosion and fire at the mine in Soma, western Turkey, 284 people are confirmed dead. Taner Yildiz, the energy minister, said 18 miners were still missing.

The deaths in the Soma coal mine have stirred up fresh antipathy toward prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was criticised for last summer's crackdown on protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square and his increasingly intolerant stance toward any kind of dissent.

The prime minister's comments that "this is what happens in coal mining" prompted a furious reaction in Soma, where he was confronted by angry protestors on Wednesday.

About 1,500 protesters gathered in the city on Friday, chanting anti-government slogans, before they were dispersed by riot police. Some of the demonstrators carried banners reading "It was not an accident, it was murder".

Opposition parties, unions and human rights groups have called for an investigation into the cause of the accident and for those responsible to be held accountable.

Erdogan's ruling party has asked the parliament to set up an inquiry into the disaster but accepted no responsibility.

"We have no inspection and supervision problem" at the Soma mine, insisted Hüseyin Celik, a deputy leader of the ruling party who said the mine had been inspected "vigorously" 11 times since 2009.

"Let's learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes. The private sector and the public sector will draw lessons," he said. "This is not the time to look for a scapegoat."

Local miners and union members sharply disagreed.

"It is sad that Turkey is still number one in Europe when it comes to work accidents," said Tamer Kücükgencay, the chairman of the regional miners' union. "This mine was constantly inspected and certified as safe. The investigations into who is responsible for this accident has to start with those inspectors."

In his first press conference since the accident, Akin Çelik, the operating manager of the Soma Coal Mining Company, denied responsibility.

"There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I have never witnessed such an incident," he said.

Alp Gürkan, the mine's owner, said his company had invested a lot of resources to ensure the safety of workers. "We have spent our income to improve working conditions to avoid possible accidents," he said.

However, Turkish media said a 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) warned of major safety deficiencies in the Soma mines. Ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms and faulty wall supports all presented a serious danger to workers' safety, according to the report.

"No production should be made before the necessary research has been completed. Carrying out production with the lack of experience might lead to disaster," the TMMOB report warned.

Ali, a mining worker of five years who previously worked as a subcontractor in Soma, but is now a coal miner in the Thracian city of Edirne, said work safety was the least important issue in Turkish mines everywhere. "All they care about is profit and an ever increasing output. The subcontractor system makes an already bad issue worse. Miners are probably doing the worst of all in Turkey."

Human rights groups harshly criticised what they called the haphazard attitude of both the Turkish government and the mining operator.

Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International, said the disaster could have been avoided.

"The long history of deaths in mines in Turkey raises chilling questions over workers' safety. The fact that the government rejected recent calls by parliamentarians to investigate serious work-related accidents is nothing short of shocking. They are playing with people's lives," he said.


Turkey mine disaster death toll disputed by furious locals

Guardian

16 May 2014

Officials say death toll from explosion at mine in western Turkey likely to be around 300, but some say more are trapped

The final death toll from Turkey's mine disaster will likely be around 300, government officials have said, though furious locals say the authorities are covering up far greater loss of life.

According to the latest official numbers, the number killed in Monday's explosion and fire at the mine in western Turkey stands at 284. The energy minister, Taner Yildiz, said on Friday that 18 miners were still missing.

But one miner who works at the pit in Soma who wished to remain anonymous sdisputed the energy minister's claim:

"This is disgraceful, an incredible lie. They are trying to cover up the exact numbers of the accident. I have been down there. There are more than 18 bodies still trapped in the mine."

Meanwhile, opposition parties, unions and human rights groups have called for an investigation into the cause of the accident and for those responsible to be held accountable.

"It is sad that Turkey is still number one in Europe when it comes to work accidents," said Tamer Kücükgencay, the chairman of the regional miners' union. "This mine was constantly inspected and certified as safe. The investigations into who is responsible for this accident has to start with those inspectors."

Yildiz said that if negligence was found to be the cause of the disaster, then prosecutions would follow.

In a first press conference since the accident four days ago, Akin Çelik, the operating manager of the Soma Coal Mining Company, denied responsibility. He said: "There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I did not witness such an incident."

Alp Gürkan, the company's owner, claimed it had invested a lot of resources to ensure the safety of workers. "We have spent our income to improve working conditions to avoid possible accidents," he said.

However, previous reports contradict company officials' claims. According to Turkish media, a 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) warned of major safety deficiencies in the Soma mines. Ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms and faulty wall supports all presented a serious danger to workers' safety, the report stated.

"No production should be made before the necessary research has been completed. Carrying out production with the lack of experience might lead to disaster," the TMMOB report warned.

Human rights groups harshly criticised what they called the haphazard attitude of both the Turkish government and the mining operator.

"This was a tragedy that should have been avoided. The long history of deaths in mines in Turkey raises chilling questions over workers' safety. The fact that the government rejected recent calls by parliamentarians to investigate serious work-related accidents is nothing short of shocking. They are playing with people's lives," said Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International.


Turkish mine disaster: Unions hold protest strike

BBC News

15 May 2014

Trade unions in Turkey are holding a one-day strike in protest at the country's worst ever mine disaster, which has claimed at least 282 lives.

Thousands have taken to the streets in cities across the country; clashes have broken out in Izmir.

President Abdullah Gul visited the scene of the disaster in Soma, as Turkey holds three days of mourning.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was booed and jostled by angry protesters during his visit to Soma on Wednesday.

Small protests

Several unions are reportedly taking part in the 24-hour strike, and blame the privatisation of the mining sector for making working conditions more dangerous.

Some 3,000 people have begun gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, to march on the labour ministry, the BBC's Turkish Service reports. Protests have also begun in Istanbul.

It was a second day of protest, after police clashed with crowds on Wednesday.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon on some 20,000 people who took to the streets in Izmir, Turkey's third largest city situated just 120km (75 miles) from Soma, the Hurriyet

More than 5,000 protesters say they will stay in the city centre until some colleagues who were detained are released.

Protests continued for a second day in Istanbul and Ankara, after police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds on Wednesday.

There were reports of demonstrations in Bursa, Antalya and other cities.

"Those who pursue privatisation... policies, who threaten workers' lives to reduce cost... are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable," said the Public Workers Unions Confederation.

Rescue efforts continue at the mine in Soma but there is little hope of finding anyone else alive.

Eight bodies were recovered overnight, bringing the death toll to 282. Up to 150 miners remain missing.

Excavators have been digging new graves in the town's cemetery, as hasty funerals are being held for victims.

Women cried and sang improvised songs about their relatives as the bodies were lowered into the graves.

President Gul called on Turks to be "unified... to get over these hard times" during his visit to Soma. He was speaking after meeting injured miners in hospital and touring the scene of the disaster.

His visit was met by protests but it was not the same level of tension that greeted the prime minister on Wednesday, the BBC's Selin Girit reports from Soma.

Scuffles broke out during Prime Minister Erdogan's visit. People booed him and kicked his car, calling for his resignation. He was forced to seek refuge in a shop at one stage. The town's ruling AK party offices were also attacked.

However, it was Mr Erdogan's aide, Yusuf Yerkel, who made headlines on Thursday when photos emerged of him appearing to kick a protester in Soma.

Mr Erdogan has been criticised for being insensitive in his reaction to the disaster, after he cited numerous mining accidents throughout the world, including in Britain in the 19th Century, in defending the Turkish government's record.

He said every effort would be made to find the missing miners, and promised a full investigation.

The disaster and its aftermath explained in 45 seconds
Power cut

The Soma mine was privatised in 2005.

The government has been accused of rejecting a recent proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into mine accidents in the area, although officials say the Soma mine was subject to regular inspections, most recently in March.

Fire still burning

An electrical fault triggered the blast soon after midday on Tuesday, while 787 miners were underground, some 2km (1.2 miles) below the surface and 4km from the mine entrance.

The resulting power cut made the mine cages unusable. Many of them died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Government officials said 363 miners were rescued in the hours after the explosion, but no survivors have been brought out since dawn on Wednesday.

Turkey's worst mining disaster until now was in 1992, when 263 miners were killed near Zonguldak, on the Black Sea.

Coal mining is a major industry in the Soma area, helping to supply a nearby lignite-fired thermal power plant, but safety has long been a concern. Nearly 40% of Turkey's electricity production depends on coal.


Turkey mine explosion: more than 200 dead and hundreds trapped

Guardian

14 May 2014

Disaster management agency says authorities are preparing for possibility that death toll in Soma disaster could rise sharply

A large rescue operation is under way to free hundreds of coal miners trapped underground after an explosion and fire in western Turkey left hundreds of their colleagues dead.

Early on Wednesday Turkey's energy minister, Taner Yildiz, said the death toll had risen above 200. Hundreds more were believed to be still trapped inside the mine, while more than 360 had been evacuated.

As rescue teams made their way from neighbouring regions, fresh air was being pumped into the mine in Soma, about 75 miles north-east of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.

Twenty people initially made it out of the privately owned mine, where a power distribution unit was said to have exploded, but local authorities in the western province of Manisa said that between 200 and 300 workers were still underground.

The blast in the power unit of the mine triggered an electricity cut, making the lifts unusable and leaving hundreds of miners stranded underground.

The disaster management agency said authorities were making arrangements to set up a cold storage facility to hold the corpses of miners recovered
from the site.

The accident happened about 2km inside the mine, according to Turkey's NTV television, while the rescue efforts were being hampered by the length of the tunnels.

Determining how many workers were trapped underground was made more difficult by the fact that the accident occurred during a shift change.

Yildiz said about 780 people had been working inside at the time of the accident.

Television footage showed people cheering and applauding as some trapped workers emerged out of the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard hats covered in soot.

One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and gave a "thumbs up" sign to onlookers. Meanwhile, hundreds of relatives of miners who were working at the site gathered outside the mine and at the hospital  in Soma, which is at the centre of a coal-mining community.

Yildiz said earlier that rescue efforts "must be completed by the morning".

"Time is working against us," he said, adding that about 400 rescuers were involved in the operation.

"We are faced with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning."

Yildiz, who opened the mine 10 months ago, said some of the workers were 420 metres deep inside the mine.

"They are pumping oxygen into the mine but the fire is still burning. They say it is an electrical fault but it could be that coal is burning as well," Tamer Küçükgençay, chairman of the regional labour union, told Reuters.

The Turkish miner's union president, Vedat Ünal, said : "Every worker has a gas mask. Those masks provide oxygen. But we don't know how long they will last." The office of the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that a planned one-day visit by him to Albania on Wednesday had been cancelled and that he would be going to Soma.

Erdogan said in televised comments: "Evacuation efforts are under way. I hope that we are able to rescue them."

Miners' representatives said that accidents such as the latest one would increase due to privatisations, the increasing employment of subcontractors and a lack of strong unions, all of which they said had led to massive pressure on workers to produce as much as possible for as little cost as possible.

"And because of weak unions it is impossible to counter this pressure," said Tayfun Görgün, the head of one of the mining unions.

Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS, which owns the mine, confirmed that a number of its workers were killed but did not say how many. It said the accident occurred despite "[the] highest safety measures and constant controls" and an investigation was being launched.

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's party sought to establish a parliamentary inquiry last year about safety issues in relation to the mining company, but the bid was rejected.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

In May 2010 another gas explosion killed 30 miners, again in the same northern province.


Group denounces mine operator as ‘murderers' at Istanbul headquarters

Eyüp Serbest

Daily News (Turkey)

14 May 2014

A group of youths has protested the operator of the mine where more than 200 workers died after an accident on May 13 in front of the company's headquarters in Istanbul, writing "Murderers" on its wall.

The group also staged a sit-in protest in the garden of the Soma Coal Mining Company, holding placards that read "This building rises on the blood of workers" and "They didn't die beautifully. This is murder, not fate."

In 2010, then-Labor Minister Ömer Dinçer attracted opprobrium by saying miners killed in an accident in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak "died beautifully," just days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said death was the "fate" of miners.

Meanwhile, the company's website, tilaga.com.tr, started to display only the official statement of the operator on a black background on May 14. The statement described the deadly incident in the western province of Manisa "as a sad accident," while stressing that the investigation was continuing, while rescuing the survivors remains the "top priority" of the company.

"Immediate action has been taken following the accident which happened in spite of the highest and continuously monitored precautions," the statement said.

The statement did not provide any further detail regarding the exact number of workers trapped in the mine. Daily Hürriyet called the company, but the phone was not answered.

The company has been slammed by the opposition for its alleged violations of safety rules, employing child laborers and overworking its miners. The former head of miners' union Maden-İş, Çetin Uygur, described the incident as "a work-related murder of the highest degree" on May 13.

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