Turkish mine town in ‘lockdown’ as rescue effort ends
Dozens detained to enforce protest ban as death toll after Soma disaster reaches 301
Friends and relatives reach out ot touch the coffin of a miner recovered from the Soma mine in Turkey today. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images.
Fellow demonstrators try to treat a man who was injured when riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against a crowd demonstrating over the fatal mine fire in Soma, Turkey. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/The New York Times.
Turkish police put the mining town of Soma on virtual lockdown today, setting up checkpoints and detaining dozens of people to enforce a ban on protests as rescue efforts following the country’s worst industrial disaster ended.
The last two bodies of workers thought still to have been left in the mine were carried out four days after a fire sent deadly carbon monoxide through it. That brought the death toll to 301, energy minister Taner Yildiz said.
Hundreds of riot police patrolled the streets while others checked identity cards at three checkpoints on the approach road to Soma, Reuters reported.
The local governor banned protests in response to clashes a day earlier between police and several thousand demonstrators.
Eight lawyers from the Contemporary Jurists Association, including its leader, were handcuffed and detained during the lockdown on suspicion that they had gone to the town to take part in more protests, the Dogan news agency said.
Tuesday’s disaster has triggered protests across Turkey, aimed at mine owners accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at prime minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response.
Mr Erdogan has presided over a decade of rapid economic growth but worker safety standards have failed to keep pace, leaving Turkey with one of the world’s worst industrial accident records. The plant manager denied any negligence at the mine which was inspected by state officials every six months.
Demonstrators clashed with police in the western port city of Izmir overnight, some setting up makeshift barricades and throwing stones and fireworks aimed at the police, Hurriyet newspaper reported. Some 40 people were detained.
There were also protests in Istanbul. Some residents in the city banged pots and pans from their windows, an act which was a feature of last summer’s nationwide anti-government unrest.
The police intervention in Soma could add to public anger towards Mr Erdogan. He has survived mass demonstrations and a corruption probe into his government over the past year to remain Turkey’s dominant politician, but now risks alienating conservative, working-class voters that form his party’s base.
There was wide media coverage of footage apparently showing Mr Erdogan slapping a man as locals jeered his entourage when he visited Soma this week. The man, Taner Kurucan, said Mr Erdogan had slapped him and told Kanal D TV he was then beaten by the prime minister’s bodyguards.
His adviser Yalcin Akdogan accused “gang members” of provoking Mr Erdogan’s team as he went to meet mourning families. Anger was intensified by a photograph of an Erdogan aide kicking a protester held down by police special forces.
Mr Erdogan’s opponents blame the government for privatising leases at previously state-controlled mines, turning them over to politically connected businessmen who they say may have skimped on safety to maximise profit.
Questioned on links between Soma Holding executives and Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, a mine executive confirmed his wife was a local AK Party politician. Company chairman Alp Gurkan said he had never met the prime minister before this week.
The AK Party said the formerly state-run mine at Soma, 480 km southwest of Istanbul, had been inspected 11 times over the past five years. It denied any suggestion of loopholes in mining safety regulations.