SOMA, Turkey, May 18 (Reuters) – A Turkish court ordered three suspects to be kept in custody on Sunday on a provisional charge of “causing multiple deaths” in last week’s mine disaster, as the last of the 301 victims were buried.
Of the remaining 22 people detained earlier, six suspects have been released but could face prosecution later. Questioning of the other 16 people was continuing. The detentions came five days after a fire sent deadly carbon monoxide coursing through the mine in the western Turkish town of Soma, causing the county’s worst ever industrial accident.
The disaster has sparked protests across Turkey, directed at mine owners accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response.
An initial report on the possible causes of the accident indicated the fire may have been triggered by coal heating up after it came into contact with the air, Prosecutor Bekir Sahiner told reporters outside the Soma courthouse, rejecting initial reports that a transformer explosion was responsible.
“The crime of which the suspects are accused is causing multiple deaths and injuries due to negligence,” he said.
The prosecutor did not identify the three suspects kept in custody but media reports said they were the plant manager and two mine engineers.
Earlier, relatives of those detained joined the crowd of reporters and bystanders outside the courthouse in Soma.
“We know that we have lost 301 loved ones, but we have loved ones inside as well,” said the brother of one of the detained engineers. He declined to give his name.
Among those detained was the general manager of the mining company, Soma Madencilik, and the son of the company’s owner.
Erdogan has presided over a decade of rapid economic growth but workplace safety standards have failed to keep pace, leaving Turkey with one of the world’s worst industrial accident records.
The plant manager has denied negligence at the mine, which was inspected by state officials every six months.
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