Dozens on trial over Turkey's worst mining disaster

2015-04-17 11:42
People stand in front of a hospital as they wait for news of relatives in Soma. (Bulent Kilic, AFP)

People stand in front of a hospital as they wait for news of relatives in Soma. (Bulent Kilic, AFP)

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Akhisar - Dozens of suspects go on trial Monday over modern Turkey's worst mining disaster that left 301 miners dead in the western town of Soma and tarnished the image of the government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Forty-five people are to stand trial, including eight former top managers from the Soma Komur group that ran the mine who are charged with murder.

The trial, which is expected to be lengthy, is being heard around 50km from Soma in western Turkey by a court in the town of Akhisar. It is scheduled to get underway at 06:30.

The accident on May 13, 2014 raised new concerns about Turkey's dire industrial safety record and exposed the lacklustre reaction of the government led by Erdogan, now president but then premier.

Erdogan had notoriously appeared to play down the disaster, saying that "accidents are in the nature of the business" and comparing it to accidents in Industrial Revolution-era Britain.


The tragedy sparked protests that rattled the government a year after the mass anti-government rallies in Istanbul and elsewhere, with an advisor to Erdogan raising tensions by kicking a protestor in Soma in an incident caught on camera.

The disaster happened when one of the pits of the Soma mine became engulfed by flames and carbon monoxide gas, trapping a team of some 800 miners working inside.

Prosecutors say that the miners were killed after inhaling gas and toxic smoke from the fire which was caused when an abandoned pile of coal left next to an electrical transformer caught fire.

Many miners died within minutes and only those working far from the centre of the fire managed to escape to the surface.

The body of the last miner missing was brought to the surface four days later, bringing the final toll to 301 dead and 162 wounded.

'Danger of death'

A report after the disaster found a long list of faults at the mine, including a lack of carbon monoxide detectors, gas masks in poor condition and bad ventilation.

Lawyers for the families of the victims say that the owners of the Soma mine had sought over-exploitation for the sake of profit, resulting in "working conditions worthy of slavery".

"The management of the mine were perfectly aware of the danger of death which was hanging over the workers," a lawyer for the victims, Selcuk Kozagacli, told AFP.

The eight top managers from Soma Komur on trial, including chief executive Can Gurkan and general manager Ramazan Dogru, have been charged by prosecutors with murder in an unusual move for an industrial accident trial.

Prosecutors have requested they be sentenced to 25 years in prison for every single one of the 301 victims.

‘Reckless homicide’

Other company officials have been charged with homicide by conscious negligence or reckless homicide, and also face lengthy jail terms.

For security reasons, the judge has ruled that the eight former managers incarcerated in Izmir will give their statements via video link, according to Dogan News Agency (DHA).

In expectation of possible tensions, police have been drafted in from surrounding regions to ensure order outside the court. A building usually used as a cultural centre has been turned into a court to accommodate the scale of the trial.

A month after the disaster, the government pushed through parliament a law aimed at improving Turkey's standards of labour safety.

But Turkey was hit by a new mining disaster in October 2014 when 18 miners were killed after floodwaters engulfed their mine in the southern region of Karaman.

Read more on:    turkey

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