TWENTY-FIVE people, including company executives, have been detained as officials in Turkey investigate the mining disaster that killed 301 workers last week, a Turkish news agency has reported.
The general manager of the Soma Holding’s mine and its operations manager were among those detained, said the Dogan news agency.
It said five others were being questioned in the town of Soma, 155 miles south of Istanbul, regarding Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster.
State and company have insisted the mine was inspected regularly and negligence was not a factor. But amid widespread public anger, government officials promised to investigate and pledged any mine bosses found negligent would be punished. Officials said three people had been charged with negligence last night.
Earlier the Milliyet newspaper said a preliminary report by a mine safety expert who inspected the Soma site suggested that smouldering coal had caused a roof collapse. The report said roof supports were wooden. The mine also had too few carbon monoxide sensors.
Company officials have insisted safety standards were high, noting that the deep mine contained 50 gas sensors and workers had been given gas masks.
On Friday operations manager Akin Celik said many of the miners who died were not carrying gas masks. Rescue workers complained of high carbon monoxide levels. But Mr Celik said: “There is no negligence.”
On Saturday, energy minister Taner Yildiz said rescue workers retrieved the bodies of the last two miners missing in the disaster, bringing the death toll to 301. Authorities then sealed the mine entrance with bricks.
There have been fierce protests against the government and the operators of the mine in recent days. The disaster occurred when an explosion sent carbon monoxide gas into the mine’s tunnels while 787 miners were underground as shifts were changing.
On Saturday, hundreds of people marched through the western city of Izmir and there were protests in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.
In Soma local authorities have banned demonstrations. Police have set up checkpoints and they detained dozens of protesters on Saturday.
The ban followed clashes on Friday, when riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to quell a violent protest.
Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised for an “insensitive” reaction to the disaster. Both Mr Erdogan and his aide Yusuf Yerkel have come under pressure after photographs were published showing them hitting protesters.
Just a couple weeks ago, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey tabled a motion in parliament calling for a thorough inspection of all coal mines.
“We are sick of going to the funerals of miners. We have to do something to stop these fatalities,” Ozgur Ozel, a CHP MP, told fellow MPs with a miner’s helmet in his hand. His motion was rejected mainly because the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voted it down.
In his speech at the site of the disaster, Mr Erdogan described the motion as “an effort to block main issues of the parliament”.
More than 10 per cent of workplace accidents in Turkey happen in mines – most in coal mines. About 13,000 miners suffered accidents at work in 2013, according to official statistics.