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Turkish mining firm denies negligence

SOMA, Turkey--Senior Turkish officials denied allegations of lax government oversight and a Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after at least 284 people died in an underground blaze at a coal mine in western Turkey.

A maximum of 18 miners remain missing and the final death toll will be around 300, the country's energy minister said. Until now it had been feared that there might be more than 100 victims still in the mine.

The mining company's owner, Alp Gurkan, said he had spent his own money on improving standards at the mine at Soma in western Turkey.

“I am hurting inside,” he said at a news conference of company officials.

Turkey's worst mining disaster has set off a raft of protests amid public outrage at allegedly poor safety conditions at Turkish coalmines, widespread corruption and what some perceived as government indifference. “It's not an accident, it's murder,” read a banner waved by trade unionists who marched through the streets of Istanbul on Thursday.

The public anger has stirred up new hostility toward Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which was already sharply criticized for last summer's brutal response to protesters in Istanbul's Taksim square and its crackdown earlier this year on social media.

Responding to the outcry, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Friday that anyone found to have been negligent about safety at the mine can expect punishment.

“If they are at fault, no tolerance will be shown regardless of whether they are from the public or private sector,” he said.

Huseyin Celik, a deputy leader of Erdogan's ruling party, also defended the government's record.

“We have no inspection and supervision problem,” he said. “This mine was inspected vigorously 11 times since 2009.”

Celik urged people to move on from the disaster. “Let's learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes. The private sector and the public sector will draw lessons,” he said. “This is not the time to look for a scapegoat.”

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