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Turkish mine disaster town under riot control

Police set up roadblocks and reportedly arrest dozens as government promises full review into deaths of 301 coal miners.

Last updated: 18 May 2014 09:34
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Government opponents accuse the mining company of skimping on safety to maximise profit [Reuters]

The Turkish government has pledged a thorough investigation into the deaths of 301 people in the Soma mine disaster, as residents in the town were subjected to police searches, arrests and a ban on protests.

Police patrolled the town, set up checkpoints and arrested dozens of people on Sunday to enforce a ban on protests set down by the local governor following clashes on Friday.

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, the private Dogan news agency reported.

A total of 36 people were arrested and taken to a sports centre in the town where they chanted: "The pressure cannot intimidate us", the agency said. The number of arrests could not be confirmed by Al Jazeera.

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 last Saturday's 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 AK Party 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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