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Four arrested in Turkey over mine disaster

Six others released pending trial as investigation into Soma disaster, which killed 301 people, continues.

Last updated: 19 May 2014 03:15
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Critics accuse mining companies of skimping on safety to maximise profit [Reuters]

Four people have been arrested by Turkish police over last week's coal mine disaster in the western town of Soma, according to Turkish media.

The mine's operating manager, two engineers and the shift supervisor for security have been sent to prison while six others were released pending trial, putting the number of people charged at 10, according to reports by the semi-official Anatolia news agency and other national media organisations.

The suspects face charges of causing multiple deaths by negligence.

Turkish police detained a total of 25 people, including mining company executives and personnel, earlier on Sunday as part of the probe into the Soma mining disaster.

The arrests came after the government promised a thorough investigation into the deaths of 301 miners caused by an explosion and following fire in the mine last week.

Police also set up checkpoints and arrested dozens of people in Soma town on Sunday as officers enforced a ban on protests following clashes on Friday.

A group of eight lawyers from the Contemporary Jurists Association, including its leader, were arrested and handcuffed on suspicion that they were there to take part in more protests, Turkish media said.

A total of 36 people were arrested and taken to a sports centre in the town where they chanted: "The pressure cannot intimidate us", reports said.

Government criticised

On Saturday, Nihat Zeybekci, the economy minister, said the government would "do everything in our hands" to "resolve the grievances" of those in Soma.

Families and unions have criticised the government's handling of the disaster, and said the private firm which runs the coal mine, Soma Holding, did nothing to enforce safety standards.

Critics say that the privatisation of previously state-controlled mines had turned them over to politically connected businessmen who have skimped on safety to maximise profit.

Managers held a fractious news conference on Friday where they said an unexplained build-up of heat was thought to have led part of the mine to collapse, fanning a blaze which spread rapidly more than 2km under the surface.

A preliminary expert report, obtained by the Milliyet newspaper, pointed to several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government said the formerly state-run mine at Soma, 480km southwest of Istanbul, had been inspected 11 times over the past five years. It denied any suggestion of loopholes in mining safety regulations.

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