by NAOMI DOSHI Staff Writer
Three-hundred-one people were killed in a mine accident on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Soma, Turkey.
The explosion was caused by an electrical problem, resulting in a power failure that made it difficult to escape when the elevators stopped working. The faulty electrical equipment allowed for the spread of carbon monoxide, which eventually killed hundreds of people.
The last two workers were found on Saturday, May 17 and buried the following day.
According to Tamer Kücükgencay, the chairman of the regional miners’ union, Turkey has the most work disasters in Europe. This was the worst mine accident that has ever happened in Turkey.
Citizens are outraged over the explosion and blame the government, which has been accused of having a lack of safety standards for mining companies.
One day after the incident, protesters began to riot in Istanbul and Izmir, triggered by the prime minister’s indifferent statements.
“This is what happens in coalmining. There is no such thing as accident-free work… These things happen. We do have something called an accident at work,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
While some protests were violent, others were peaceful. Some of the protesters attempted to attack the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Headquarters, the party to which the prime minister belongs.
In Istanbul, citizens threw rocks at the prime minister’s car, shouting “thief” and “murderer.”
Police took action against citizens in both peaceful and violent protests. They used tear gas, plastic bullets and water cannons to clear the crowd.
“I think the police made a big mistake when they stopped the protesters like that. They are already mad because of the mine explosion, and violence from the police will just make it worse. I think that they will just riot more until the government does something,” said freshman Kaitlyn Guo.
The angry protesters demanded that the Soma Coal Mining Company, which owns the mine, be thoroughly investigated.
Kücükgencay said, “This mine was constantly inspected and certified as safe. The investigations into who is responsible for this accident has to start with those inspectors.”
The company, however, denied that the explosion was their mistake.
Akin Çelik, the operating manager of the company, said, “There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I did not witness such an incident.”
Only three weeks before the accident, the opposition Republican People’s Party demanded that the safety conditions in the Soma mines be investigated. However, AKP voted against this.
The mines were previously state owned, but they were leased to private companies this year. The Confederation of Public Workers’ Union used this reason to organize a strike two days after the explosion.
Although local protests were banned, the government responded to demands by investigating officials. Twenty-four people were detained and questioned while four company officials were arrested, including Çelik. They could face up to 15 years in prison.
“I think it’s good that their government is finally inspecting the company, but I don’t think just that is enough. They need to completely change the working conditions inside the mines,” said freshman Pari Pandey.
The government has promised to change safety regulations and inspections.
President Abdullah Gul said, “Whatever is necessary will be done.”
How do you think the government will change mining conditions?