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Soma miners blame disaster on company negligence

TURKISH miners placed the blame for the huge tragedy at the Soma coal mine squarely on company negligence and a lax inspection regime this weekend.

"The company is guilty," said miner Erdal Bicak, explaining that managers owned machines which measured methane gas levels, but had not used them properly. 

"The new gas levels had got too high and they didn't tell us in time," he complained.

Company officials have claimed that there were gas sensors at "50 locations" and that all employees had been provided gas masks.

But Mr Bicak said they were given old oxygen masks that he thought hadn't been checked in many years.

And he said the last inspection at the Soma mine had been six months ago.

Mr Bicak alleged that mine managers know government inspectors only visit the top 100 yards of the mine, so they just clean up that part and inspectors never see the narrow, steep, cramped sections below.

Mine owners are also tipped off up to a week before an inspection, added local opposition MP Ozgur Ozel, who has criticised the government for not adopting the International Labour Organisation's convention on mine safety.

The Milliyet newspaper reported on Saturday that a preliminary report by a mine safety expert suggested smouldering coal caused the mine's roof to collapse. 

The report said the tunnel's support beams were made of wood, not metal, and there were not enough carbon monoxide sensors.

Government and mining officials have insisted that the disaster that killed 301 workers was not due to negligence and the mine was inspected regularly.

Nevertheless police investigating the causes of the mine disaster reportedly arrested 18 people yesterday, including general manager Ramazan Dogru and operations manager Akin Celik.

A heavy police presence descended on Soma on Saturday, with officers setting up checkpoints and detaining dozens of people to enforce a ban on protests, including lawyers who scuffled with police after objecting to identity checks. 

The lawyers had come to offer legal advice to the victims.

Security in the bereaved town remained tight yesterday.

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