ISTANBUL: The deadliest coalmine blast in Turkish history has plunged a region into mourning, and reignited concerns over lax safety in a country with the highest number of mining deaths in Europe.
At least 282 workers died after Tuesday’s explosion—believed to have been sparked by an electrical fault—at a private mine in the western district of Soma, one of the worst such accidents in recent history.
As hope dwindled for scores more men still trapped under–ground, the spotlight turned to what experts said was Turkey’s shameful record on mine safety.
“Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world,” Kemal Ozkan, assistant general secretary of the Geneva-based international trade union federation IndustriALL Global Union, told Agence France-Presse.
Ozkan called the number of mineworkers killed in this week’s fatal accident “mind boggling and staggering.”
“This recent tragedy must rank as the worst mining tragedy in recent memory, and is made all the more tragic by the seemingly uncaring attitude of the government and mining companies,” he charged.
“It is unacceptable that mine workers in Turkey are denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guarantees their safety and that they are expected to go to work to die,” Ozkan added.
In 73 years, 3,000 miners have died in Turkey, he said, noting that Ankara has yet to ratify the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conven–tion on mine safety.
“Turkey must act now to ratify it: now, before this tragedy is lost from the headlines and forgotten until the next catastrophe,” Ozkan said.
The disaster spells a new headache for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who weathered mass anti-go–vernment protests last summer followed by an ongoing cor–ruption scandal implicating some of his closest allies.
Now his government stands accused of failing to heed the warning signs of a possible disaster in Soma, a key center for lignite coal mining which is no stranger to tragedies.
Ozgur Ozel, a local lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said his request to investigate work-related acci–dents at coalmines in Soma had been turned down by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament.
Turkey is estimated to have around 7,000 mines, employing more than 120,000 people.