Tuesday 17 October 2017

Turkey mine death toll rises to 301

Police use tear gas to disperse people gathered to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims in Istanbul (AP)
Police use tear gas to disperse people gathered to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims in Istanbul (AP)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the coal mine in Soma on Wednesday (AP)
Turkey's prime minister Tayyip Erdogan visits the coal mine accident site in Soma. The explosion and fire is likely to prove to be the nation's worst ever industrial disaster. Photo: REUTERS/Kayhan Ozer/Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout via Reuters
Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a march in Soma, Turkey where the mine accident took place, Friday, May 16, 2014. Hundreds of protesters took part in the march against the government and there were clashes with the police forces. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
An anti-government protester throws a stone at a police water canon as it is used against protesters during clashes with police in Soma, Turkey where the mine accident took place, Friday, May 16, 2014. Hundreds of protesters took part in the march against the government and there were clashes with the police forces. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Riot police officer fires toward demonstrators who are protesting against the government in Soma, Turkey, Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)
People gather to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government's labor policy in Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo)
People carry the coffin of a mine accident victim in Soma, Turkey (AP)
Thousands of workers gather to remember the mine accident victims and protest against the government (AP)
Relatives of miners wait near a coal mine in Soma
A protester holds a sign that reads, "It is a murder not an accident" during a demonstration
A boot and a helmet are seen in a changing room used by coal miners after a mining disaster in Soma
A miner eats a bagel and waits for his trapped friends near the mine in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, Turkey
A protester is kicked by Yusuf Yerkel (L), advisor to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, as Special Forces police officers detain him during a protest against Erdogan's visit to Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa.
A protester runs away from tear gas fired by riot police
A woman cries at the grave of a mine accident victim in Soma, Turkey
Protesters march during a demonstration to blame the ruling AK Party (AKP) government for mining disaster in western Turkey, in Ankara. Around a thousand people from various trade unions gathered in Ankara to march on the Labour Ministry, some wearing miners' helmets and waving banners showing the image of Che Guevara. The banner reads, "It's a murder not an accident."

The bodies of the last two missing miners inside a coal mine in western Turkey have been located, raising the death toll to 301.

Energy minister Taner Yildiz said "our efforts will be coming to an end" but that crews "will be scouring all corners (of the mine) once again" to confirm the final death toll.

The announcement was made as police increased security in Soma to prevent new protests and detained lawyers who scuffled with police after objecting to identity checks, NTV television reported.

The lawyers had reportedly come to offer legal advice to the victims.

Mr Yildiz said 485 miners escaped or had been rescued.

Government and company officials have denied that negligence caused the disaster in the mine in Soma but opposition politicians have raised questions about possible lax oversight.

One miner who survived said safety inspectors never visited the lower reaches of the mine in Soma.

Yesterday, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse rock-throwing protesters in Soma, where about 1,500 demonstrators urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to resign.

In Istanbul, police forcefully broke up a crowd of about 150 people who lit candles and lined up mining helmets on the ground to honour the victims of the disaster, the DHA news agency reported.

Protesting workers have described the disaster as murder, not an accident, because of what they call flawed safety conditions at that mine and others in the country.

Erdal Bicak, 24, said he had just ended his shift on Tuesday and was making his way to the surface when mine managers ordered him back down because of a problem.

"The company is guilty," he said, adding that managers had machines that measure methane gas levels.

"The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time."

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 yesterday.

"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".

He added: "Let's learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes...(But) this is not the time to look for a scapegoat."

Mr Bicak, however, said the last inspection at the Soma mine was six months before the disaster. He said the inspectors only visit the top 100 yards of the mine and the managers knew that.

So, the managers would clean up the top part of the mine and the inspectors never saw what was below, he said.

The miner said the pathways are really narrow and steep down below, and the ceilings are so low miners cannot stand up, adding that is why it was so hard to get out.

But 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.

The question remains, however, of how the mine could have been checked so often and still have such a deadly fire.

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 politician from the Soma region, petitioned parliament in October to hold an inquiry into mine safety but the proposal was voted down.

He says there is 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, he alleged.

Mr Ozel's party has criticised the government for not adopting the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) convention on mine safety, widely regarded as the industry standard.

Joe Drexler, of the Global Union Federation, visited Turkey several times between 2008 and 2010 to urge government officials to ratify the ILO convention and improve health and safety in the country's mines.

"I have no doubt that this disaster could have been averted if this convention had been accepted," he said.

Funeral prayers were said in mosques throughout Turkey for the victims and football fans draped their team's scarves over some of the graves in Soma.

Mr Erdogan attended one such ceremony in Istanbul. The disaster could hurt his political ambitions - he has made no secret of his desire to run for president in the country's August election after serving as prime minister for the last 11 years.

President Barack Obama called Turkish President Abdullah Gul to convey condolences and offer assistance, the White House said.

Press Association

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