Turkish firm, govt deny negligence in mine fire
By DESMOND BUTLER
and SUZAN FRASER
the associated press | May 17,2014
SOMA, Turkey — The Turkish government and mining company officials vehemently denied Friday that negligence was at the root of the country’s worst mining disaster even as opposition lawmakers raised questions about possible lax oversight.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said at least 292 people died in Tuesday’s coal mine fire in Soma, a town in western Turkey. Another nine or ten people are believed to be missing underground while 485 miners escaped or were rescued from the inferno.
Protesting workers have described the Soma disaster as murder, not an accident, because of what they call flawed safety conditions at that mine and others in the country.
Police used tear gas and water cannon Friday to disperse rock-throwing protesters in Soma, where about 1,500 demonstrators urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to resign. The government has asked for a parliamentary inquiry into the disaster to find out what happened and why — but it appeared that officials had already made up their minds Friday.
“There’s no negligence with respect to this incident,” insisted Huseyin Celik, a deputy leader of the ruling party. He said the mine in Soma “was inspected vigorously 11 times since 2009.”
“Let’s learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes,” he said. “(But) this is not the time to look for a scapegoat.”
Akin Celik, the Soma mining company’s operations manager, echoed the government’s argument.
“There’s no negligence with respect to this incident. We all worked with all our heart and soul. I have not seen anything like this in 20 years,” he told reporters.
Their comments raised the question, however, of how the mine could have been checked so often and still have such a deadly fire.
Ibrahim Ali Hasdan, a Soma resident, said he was astonished by claims there was no negligence.
“This statement hurts people’s hearts ... even a young child wouldn’t be convinced by this statement,” he said.
The chief prosecutor in the nearby city of Akhisar said prosecutors had begun interviewing some of the injured miners and other witnesses.
Ozgur Ozel, an opposition lawmaker from the Soma region, petitioned parliament in October to hold an inquiry into mine safety but the proposal was voted down. Ozel says there’s a mine accident every three or four months in the Soma region and eleven workers have died in the last three years.
Mine inspections do take place but the owners are tipped off up to a week before, Ozel alleged.
“The main suspicion about it is that there is a relationship between the government and those running this mine and the mine was not being properly supervised” for health and safety issues due to those ties, Ozel told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.
Ozel’s party has criticized the government for not adopting the International Labor Organization’s convention on mine safety, widely regarded as the industry standard.
“If this had been signed, perhaps the company in Soma would not have reduced its costs ... but 302 lives would still be with us,” opposition party legislator Faik Oztrak said.