Turkish police yesterday detained 18 people suspected of negligence in connection with this week’s deadly mine disaster, including executives from the mine operator, local media reported.
The Dogan news agency said Ramazan Dogru, general manager of the mine owned by Soma Holding, and its operations manager, Akin Celik, were among those detained. It said prosecutors were questioning five people yesterday, but did specify whom.
Government and company officials have insisted that the mine was inspected regularly and negligence was not a factor.
However, reacting to widespread public anger, government officials promised to investigate and pledged that any mine officials found to be negligent would be prosecuted.
Rescue operations ended on Saturday after the bodies of the last two trapped miners were retrieved following the country’s worst ever industrial disaster, which claimed 301 lives.
Dozens of prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the fire and explosion believed to have been sparked by an electrical fault at a private mine in the western district of Soma.
Mine operator Soma Komur vehemently denied any negligence.
“We have all worked very hard. I have not seen such an incident in 20 years,” its general director Akin Celik said earlier.
A preliminary expert report, obtained by the Milliyet newspaper, pointed to several safety violations, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal.
Turkish Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz said the mine would not resume production until “all issues have been brought to light.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angered many by his response, including an apparent attempt to play down the incident by comparing it to mining disasters from 19th-century Britain.
At least 36 people, including eight lawyers, were briefly arrested and held in a stadium in Soma on Saturday after attempting to make a statement.
Police beat and injured some of the lawyers who had come to advise families of dead miners, the Contemporary Lawyers Association wrote on Twitter.
Security checkpoints were set up on the main roads leading to Soma a day after police forcefully broke up a peaceful demonstration.
There have been claims of negligence against mine operators and many see the government response as heartless.
There was outrage after a video emerged of Erdogan shouting an anti-Israel slur at a crowd of angry protesters — and apparently hitting one of them.
“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester, which surfaced days after one of his advisors was photographed kicking a grieving demonstrator.
However an official from Erdogan’s office told reporters on Saturday: “The prime minister has definitely not used such an expression. The use of such an expression is out of the question.”
Erdogan’s popularity — particularly among poorer, rural communities — has persisted, despite waves of anti-government protests last year and recent allegations of corruption, with the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party winning a landslide victory in local elections in March.
“This time, even many of Erdogan’s supporters are feeling skeptical and confused about his response. That’s a new feeling for them. The image of a government advisor kicking a protester is bound to evoke a sense of revulsion,” Rasit Kaya, political science professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, told reporters.