Turkey Charges Three, Detains 22 in Mine Disaster Probe

Turkish authorities have charged three people and detained 22 others as part of an investigation into last week's deadly coal mine disaster in western Turkey that killed 301 miners.
 
Prosecutor Bekir Sahiner said the three people were charged with negligence and causing multiple deaths
 
Dozens of prosecutors are investigating the cause of the explosion and fire at the coal mine in the town of Soma. Nearly 800 miners were underground at the time of the blast. Many of those killed are believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning and suffocation.
 
A preliminary report on the accident, obtained by Turkey's Milliyet newspaper indicated several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal.

General view of a coal mine site where a fire broke out on Tuesday in Soma,in the western province of Manisa, Turkey on May 18, 2014. /Reuters General view of a coal mine site where a fire broke out on Tuesday in Soma,in the western province of Manisa, Turkey on May 18, 2014. /Reuters

Rescue operations ended Saturday after the bodies of the last two workers were retrieved.

The detentions were the first of the inquiry and came five days after a fire sent deadly carbon monoxide coursing through the mine in the western Turkish town of Soma, causing the county's worst ever industrial accident.
 
The disaster has sparked protests across Turkey, directed at mine owners accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response.

Mine operator Soma Komur has denied any claim of negligence.

On Friday, an official with the company admitted the mine's only safety chamber had been removed. The chamber was equipped with its own oxygen supply and designed to hold as many as 500 miners providing refuge in the case of a disaster.

The mine owner said at the time of the accident a new chamber was under construction, but that legally there was no requirement to have one.

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 for the French news agency AFP said.

Dozens of people were detained on Saturday in response to clashes on Friday between police and several thousand demonstrators. Hundreds of riot police patrolled the streets while others checked identity cards at three checkpoints on the approach road to Soma.

The checkpoints remained in place on Sunday but those detained, including eight lawyers from the Contemporary Jurists Association, were released by Saturday evening, media reports said.

There were fresh clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul and Ankara on Saturday night amid anger at the government's handling of the disaster.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

VOA News / May 19, 2014 08:12 KST