Soma, Turkey: A Turkish court has ruled to keep three suspects in custody out of 25 people detained on a provisional charge of “causing multiple deaths” in the country’s mine disaster, the prosecutor in charge of the case said.
Prosecutor Bekir Sahiner said an initial report on the possible causes of the accident, in which 301 people died, indicated that the fire could have been triggered by coal heating up after it came into contact with the air.
Mining company executives and personnel were among those initially detained as an investigation into last week’s mine disaster got underway and the last of the 301 victims were buried on Sunday.
A relative of a miner who died as she prays at his graveside. Photo: Getty Images
The detentions came five days after a fire sent deadly carbon monoxide coursing through the mine in the western Turkish town of Soma, causing the county’s worst ever industrial accident.
The disaster has sparked protests across Turkey, directed at mine owners accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response.
Police formed a cordon around the court house in Soma as a crowd of onlookers, journalists and relatives of those detained grew steadily. Inside, prosecutors questioned company employees, a police official said.
Police put Soma on virtual lockdown, setting up checkpoints and detaining dozens. Photo: AP
One woman said her engineer husband was among those detained inside and one man, whose engineer brother was being held, said dozens of people had been questioned as part of the probe. Both declined to be named.
“We know that we have lost 301 loved ones, but we have loved ones inside as well,” the man said.
Governor of Manisa province Abdurrahman Savas said 24 people were being held on what media reports said was suspicion of negligence and “causing multiple deaths”.
The cemetery where some of the 301 people killed in the mine were buried. Photo: AFP
Among those initially detained was Akin Celik, general director of mine operator Soma Komur, NTV television reported. The suspects could face charges including manslaughter, it added.
Soma Komur has vehemently denied any negligence.
A preliminary expert report on the accident obtained by the Milliyet newspaper pointed to several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal. The authenticity of the report could not be immediately verified.
The rescue operation at the coal mine ended on Saturday after the bodies of the last two workers were carried out. They were buried on Sunday.
Mourners cried and prayed beside a line of recently filled graves as one of them was buried in Soma. Holding their palms open to the sky, around a thousand people said “amen” in unison as an imam recited verses.
Ramazan, a worker from a mine near the one where the accident occurred, was among those paying his respects.
“My friend lost half of his family. And for what? To make a living,” he said. “Accidents can happen of course, but it’s an accident when one person, two people die. When 300 people die, its not an accident anymore.”
Mr Erdogan has presided over a decade of rapid economic growth but workplace safety standards have failed to keep pace, leaving Turkey with one of the world’s worst industrial accident records. The plant manager has denied negligence at the mine which was inspected by state officials every six months.
As the rescue operation wound up, police put Soma on virtual lockdown, setting up checkpoints and detaining dozens of people to enforce a ban on protests in response to clashes on Friday between police and several thousand demonstrators.