Turkey marks first anniversary of Soma mine tragedy

Friday 08/05/2015
Open wound for Turkey

SOMA (Turkey) - Turkey on Wednesday sombrely marked the first anniversary of a mine disaster that left 301 miners dead in the country's worst ever industrial accident.

Around 5,000 people, including relatives of the victims, survivors and politicians, mourned the year-old disaster with teary eyes at a cemetery near the accident site in the western town of Soma, a photographer said.

In front of a row of black tombs at the cemetery, built for the victims, women recited the Koran under a blazing sun, while a few metres away, a small group of people carried banners with the names of 301 workers.

Dozens of others visited a memorial site at Soma featuring black marble monuments adorned with the miners' lanterns and the Turkish flag.

Turkish Miners' Union held a ceremony at a central square in Soma where the Koran was read throughout the day, in accordance with Islamic traditions in the majority Muslim country.

Other labour unions organised a separate commemoration event, with a moment of silence at the entrance of the disaster-stricken Eynez coal mine and the laying of carnations on the miners' memorial.

The unions also released a common statement, calling May 13 "a dark day for miners" and "an open wound for Turkey".

Meanwhile workers in several cities including Izmir, Antalya and Gaziantep went on a day-long strike in a show of solidarity with the victims' families, Dogan news agency reported.

Police clashed with protesting students at Akdeniz University in the southern province of Antalya, detaining at least 10, Dogan said.

The disaster on May 13, 2014 happened when one of the pits of the Soma mine became engulfed by flames and carbon monoxide gas, trapping some 800 miners working inside.

A total of 45 suspects are currently on trial over the tragedy, with eight former top managers facing sentences of thousands of years on murder charges.

Prosecutors say the miners were killed after inhaling gas and toxic smoke from the fire which was caused when an abandoned pile of coal left next to an electrical transformer caught fire.

A report after the disaster found a long list of faults and negligence at the mine, including a lack of carbon monoxide detectors, gas masks in poor condition and bad ventilation.

Lawyers for the families of the victims say that the owners of the Soma mine had sought over-exploitation for the sake of profit, a claim that the company denies.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government "is blocking the path to full justice for the victims and their families."

"Beyond passing new laws, government support for full accountability would demonstrate a readiness to learn lessons from the Soma disaster," HRW's Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

The government had been widely criticised at the time for its lacklustre reaction and conduct following the disaster although it later pushed through parliament a law aimed at improving Turkey's standards of labour safety.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, had notoriously appeared to play down the disaster, saying that "accidents are in the nature of the business" and comparing it to accidents in Industrial Revolution-era Britain.

Turkey has the highest rate of workplace fatalities in Europe, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).