Turkish prosecutors on Sunday charged three people with reckless manslaughter over a mining disaster that left 301 dead and sparked fury at the Turkish government and company officials.
The bodies of the last two trapped miners were retrieved on Saturday following the country’s worst ever industrial disaster.
Prosecutors said they have ruled out an electrical fault, which was initially believed to be the cause of the devastating coalmine blast.
A preliminary report into the disaster “suggested the fire could have been caused by coal heating up after coming into contact with air,” prosecutor Bekir Sahiner told journalists.
This could have caused a massive amount of carbon monoxide to fill the mine.
“Twenty-five people have been ... detained, including the chairman of the company and three of them have been charged with reckless manslaughter,” Sahiner said.
Six people have since been released and the others were still being questioned.
The Dogan news agency reported that those charged were plant manager Akin Celik and two mining engineers from mine operator Soma Komur.
Soma Komur has vehemently denied any negligence.
The Milliyet newspaper claimed to have seen the preliminary report, which it said noted several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal.
Rescue workers told Turkey’s state NTV that a cave-in had occurred in the mine after the ceilings burnt down and collapsed on account of the fire.
Erdogan had said that mining accidents are in “the nature of the business,” sparking furious accusations of indifference to the victims’ plight.
The Soma disaster has sparked a wave of fury against the government, adding to pressure on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamic-rooted party emerged triumphant from March 30 local elections, despite a corruption scandal implicating key allies and last year’s mass protests.
He is expected to bid for the presidency in August.
Soma was in a virtual lockdown on Sunday after checkpoints were set up on the main roads leading to the town where all demonstrations were banned, reporters on the scene said.
On Saturday, at least 36 people were arrested and held in a stadium in Soma after they attempted to make a statement.
Some lawyers who came to advise families of dead miners were beaten and injured by police.
Images of police firing tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir revived memories of the government’s heavy-handed crackdown against nationwide protests last year.
A total of 787 people were inside the mine when the blast hit, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. Most of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“I was very sad when I came here and I am still very sad,” Yildiz told reporters before leaving Soma on Sunday, pledging support for the stricken families.