Deadly mine explosion in western Turkey sets off public outrage

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- An explosion and fire at a coal mine in the western province of Manisa that left at least 238 dead and hundreds of miners trapped underground on Wednesday has sparked outrage in the public and among labor unions, who accuse the government of negligence in what, as the death toll rises, is likely to become the deadliest mining disaster in Turkey’s history.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner YIldIz said on Wednesday that 787 people were inside the coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa at the time of the explosion and that 363 of them had been rescued so far. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan, who flew to Soma on Wednesday, put the death toll at 238 on Wednesday afternoon. Eighty people were confirmed injured, although unofficial reports put that number at 141.

The incident drew reactions from both the public and labor unions, one of which called on two ministers to resign over negligence in the disaster.

The chairman of the Mining Engineers Chamber, a Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) affiliate, Ayhan Yuksel, said at a press conference on Wednesday that his organization had sent a team to the scene, adding: “There are deaths due to carbon monoxide gas that spread to all parts of the mine as a result of fire that erupted in the mine for unknown reasons. Some miners were killed in the fire, but most of the miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning. As time passes, our hopes that the trapped miners will be rescued alive are also dying. We still haven’t had the chance of examine the recent inspection reports on the Soma coal mine our chamber had earlier opposed the privatization of the coal mine. This coal mine is being administered by a subcontractor. About four or five years ago, we detected dense methane gas during inspections at the mine. We released a report on this risk. I offer condolences to the mining community and the whole public. Our grief is immense.”

The TMMOB released a written statement on Wednesday in which it called on Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk elik and YIldIz to resign immediately.

Noting that Turkey has the highest number of fatal work accidents in Europe per year, the TMMOB said work accidents happen because the state doesn’t care about workers lives. “If the employers don’t take necessary precautions if the Labor and Social Security Ministry violates its own rules if it changes legal regulations regarding the rights of workers very frequently if it doesn’t make regular inspections if it doesn’t act on sanctions handed out to companies due to electoral concerns then it is very normal for us to witness such incidents [as the Soma disaster]. Such incidents are to be expected if the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources tries to reduce state-owned mining through privatization, subcontracting and renting, if it gives the administration of the mines over to unqualified and inexperienced individuals and private companies instead of public institutions and organizations that have long experience in mining.”

Stating that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government was seriously negligent in the Soma incident, the TMMOB added that elik and YIldIz should resign as soon as possible.

— Harsh reactions from labor unions

The Soma disaster was met with strong reactions from various labor unions that released written statements on Wednesday accusing the government of negligence.

In its statement, the Revolutionary Mineral Research and Exploitation Workers’ Union (DEV-MADEN-SEN) — affiliated with the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DISK) — stated that eight miners were killed and 15 miners injured in work accidents at Soma in 2013, blaming the incidents on the state’s failure to conduct regular inspections at mines.

Turkey Food and Sugar Industry Workers Union (Ieker-II) Chairman Isa Gk said that the state has to learn lessons from such accidents and abandon practices like the privatization of mines and subcontracting. There are nearly 15,000 miners working at the coal mine in Soma, Gk said, adding that regular inspections should be made at all mines in order to prevent fatal accidents. The state should end subcontracting in the mining sector as soon as possible, he said.

In a written statement on Wednesday, Education and Science Employees Union (EIitim-II) President Veli Demir called on civil society organizations and labor unions to launch a one-day work stoppage on May 16 to protest the mine disaster in Manisa’s Soma district.

Stating that that the disaster had deeply saddened the whole of Turkey, Demir added: “As long as capitalism remains on earth, such incidents will not be so unexpected. The country is being governed by a prime minister who says, ‘It is part of the fate of this profession,’ while referring to accidents that commonly occur in mines.” Arguing that the practice of subcontracting, which he says exploits the labor force, should be abandoned in all sectors as soon as possible, Demir also said that all members of organizations affiliated with the EIitim-II will wear black ribbons from May 14-16 in honor of the miners who were killed at the Soma incident.

Meanwhile, Grup Yorum — a Turkish left-wing band known for its political songwriting — announced on Wednesday that the group’s members will travel to Soma to protest what they described as a “massacre” there. In a written statement on Wednesday, the group members said that they don’t believe top government officials’ statements on the number of those killed or trapped in the coal mine in Soma, calling on the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources to announce official figures. Calling the ruling AK Party an “enemy of the labor force,” the group also invited other artists and singers to come Soma to protest against working accidents.

— Demonstrations held across Turkey for Soma disaster

Nearly 30 people came to Istanbul’s Taksim Square to stage a silent protest of the fatal mining accident on Wednesday. The group lay motionless on the ground at the square for some time. The group dispersed without shouting slogans or making any press statements.

Another group staged a sit-in protest in Istanbul’s KadIky district on Wednesday. The protesters lit candles for the miners killed in the disaster and shouted slogans like, “We will burn the murderers with the same coals that swallowed the miners” “This is not working accident, it is murder” and “Miners didn’t die they were killed.”

Police took strict security measures in front of an office of Soma Holding, the company that owns the Soma coal mine, in the Levent district of Istanbul on Wednesday as a precaution against demonstrations or attacks.

At the Taksim metro station, a group of people lay on the ground for a short time in silence in protest of the disaster in Soma.

Members of the Turkey Youth Union (TGB) and the Labor Youth gathered in EskiIehir province at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday and lit candles for the miners. The protesters, who wore miner’s helmets, kept protesting through the night. They accused the government of being the “killer of the miners.”

Another sit-in protest was held in Ankara’s Guvenpark. Members of civil society organization People’s Houses (Halkevleri) marched on the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry headquarters in Ankara, shouted slogans in protest of the disaster.

A group of students from Middle East Technical University (ODTu) who attempted to march toward the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry to protest the death of the miners was met with police force. Police used water cannon and tear gas against the students.(CihanToday’s Zamamn)


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