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MURAT YETKİN > Analysis: Gov’t ignored warnings, miners paid the bill with their lives

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A miner came out helped by friends after an explosion in Manisa on May 13, 2014. AFP Photo

A miner came out helped by friends after an explosion in Manisa on May 13, 2014. AFP Photo

The death toll from the coal mine blast in Soma, western Turkey, is now at least 201, according to Energy Minister Taner Yıldız as this piece was being written in the morning hours of May 14.

Turkey is in deep grief.

Yıldız is “afraid” that there will be more causalities, as there were nearly 800 “estimated” miners trapped in the pit after the May 13 afternoon explosion.

No, the minister has not resigned yet.

Yes, he was the one who visited the Soma mine nine months ago, praising the quality of safety measures and levels of technology, produced in Turkey, in the pits of Soma Mining, which is owned by Ali Gürkan. In a 2012 interview, Gürkan said the company had managed to drop the cost of coal to $24 per ton from $130 before privatization by simply manufacturing the electric transformers themselves instead of importing them, among other measures such as hiring subcontractors for hard work with lower salaries than workers organized by the trade union, Maden-İş.

And yes, it was with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) that rejected a demand for a parliamentary investigation regarding safety in the Soma mines just two weeks ago, on April 29. 

It was the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) that had submitted the proposal. Its deputy for Manisa (the province where the town of Soma is located), Özgür Özel, said on the parliamentary floor that there were reports of frequent mine accidents with death tolls that might be a concern and serve as warning. Parliament should have a look at the matter in order to implement additional measures, he added.

The answer came from an AK Parti MP, again from Manisa, Muzaffer Yurttaş, who said the mines were safer than the mines in many countries around the world (despite the fact that Turkey is one of the worst when it comes to coal mine accidents). The people had trust in the AK Parti as the votes in the last elections showed and “God willing” nothing would happen, “not even a nose bleed.” 

(Speaking of votes, bags of coal – and macaroni – distributed to poor people has become a symbol of how the AK Parti campaigns during elections.)

In the afternoon hours the death toll had increased to 245.

After this speech, the CHP motion was rejected with the AK Parti's votes. Has anyone thought of resigning? Has anyone assumed responsibility for the at least 245 miners’ lives lost so far? Not in sight.

The government and the ruling party in Parliament ignored the warnings about the Soma mines, but the miners paid the price with their lives.

The rescue work was still ongoing as I concluded this piece, but hopes are diminishing.

May/14/2014

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