Turkish mine owner denies any negligence in disaster

At least 284 workers confirmed dead, with 18 still trapped inside

Fri, May 16, 2014, 10:14

The operator of the Turkish mine where 284 workers were killed this week in Turkey‘s worst ever mining disaster said today there was no negligence on the part of the company and that it still did not know the exact cause of the disaster.

“We still do not know how the accident happened. There is no negligence of ours in this incident. We all worked heart and soul,“ said Akin Celik, the plant manager of the mine, run by Soma Holding.
The operator of a Turkish mine in which 284 people died this week and 18 remain trapped said today the exact cause of a fire was still unclear but that a build-up of heat had caused a partial collapse in the plant.

Rescuers were still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480km southwest of Istanbul, three days after a fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, trapping hundreds underground in Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster.

“It was an unbelievable accident in a place where there have been very few accidents in 30 years,” Soma Holding chairman Alp Gurkan told a news conference. “A mine with top level miners, accepted as being the most trustworthy and organised.”

The company said a total of 787 workers had been in the mine at the time, of which 122 had been hospitalised and a further 363 rescued.

Hopes are fading of pulling out any more of those still thought to be inside.

Anger has swept a country that experienced a decade of rapid economic growth under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government but still suffers from one of the world’s worst records of workplace safety.

Furious residents heckled Mr Erdogan on Wednesday as he toured the town, angry at what they see as the government’s cosiness with mining tycoons, its failure to ensure safety and a lack of information on the rescue effort.

Access to the mine entrance was blocked by paramilitary police roadblocks several kilometres away for a visit by President Abdullah Gul yesterday. Officers searched cars.

“We came here to share the grief and wait for our friends to come out but we were not allowed. Is the president’s pain greater than ours?” asked Emre, an 18-year-old trying to get to the mine who said friends from his village were still trapped.

Mr Erdogan, who announced three days of national mourning from Tuesday, expressed regret for the disaster but said such accidents were not uncommon, and turned defensive when asked if sufficient precautions had been in place.

Newspaper Radikal published an amateur video clip on its website appearing to show Mr Erdogan saying “Come here and jeer at me!” as he walked through a hostile crowd in the town.

A picture circulating on social media of one of his deputy personal assistants, Yusuf Yerkel, kicking a protester as he was wrestled to the ground by armed special forces officers did little to help the prime minister’s image.

Colleagues in Mr Erdogan’s office defended Mr Yerkel, saying the protester had travelled to Soma deliberately to cause trouble.

London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where Yerkel once studied, issued a statement saying it had no association with him after being besieged with enquiries.