Turkey prosecutors seek life jail for eight over mining disaster

A flood at a mine in the southern Karaman region left 18 miners trapped.

A flood at a mine in the southern Karaman region left 18 miners trapped.

Prosecutors have demanded life imprisonment for eight executives of a coal mine company in Turkey operating a facility where 301 workers were killed in May in the country’s worst mining accident, media reported on Wednesday.

Prosecutors in the western city of Manisa are seeking life terms on a record 301 counts of manslaughter against the suspects, who were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in May.

Twenty-nine other employees of the Soma Mining company have also been charged with involuntary manslaughter and face between two to 15 years in prison if found guilty, news agency Dogan reported.

A trial is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Those facing life imprisonment include the chief executive of Soma Mining, Can Gurkan, who is also the son of the company’s owner.

An explosion followed by the collapse of a mine at Soma in the west of the country killed the 301 miners in Turkey’s worst-ever industrial accident. Most were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Expert reports pointed to several safety violations at the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors, ceilings made of wood instead of metal, and a lack of high-quality gas masks.

Soma Mining has denied any responsibility.

The disaster sparked a wave of fury against then prime minister — now President — Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was accused of indifference to the plight of the victims.

It also reignited concerns over lax safety in a country with the highest rate of workplace fatalities in Europe, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Following the disaster, the government introduced a new action plan to improve safety in the country’s mines.

But in the latest accident to hit the country’s disaster-prone mining industry, a flood at a mine in the southern Karaman region left 18 miners trapped last week.

The government has yet to confirm their deaths, but hopes are next to zero of finding anyone alive with the miners remaining under tonnes of water.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who has been at the scene for the last week, told reporters Wednesday that rescuers has still not managed to remove all the mud and water that fell on top of the miners.

“We have taken out three-quarters of the water but we still need time,” he said.

Turkish police on Wednesday detained 17 demonstrators from a leftist labour union who were protesting against workplace fatalities outside the Labour Ministry in the capital Ankara.

The group shouted slogans calling the Labour Minister Faruk Celik “the worker killer” and hung a placard on the ministry’s building that read “We don’t want to die while working,” television reported.

 
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