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AKP gov’t faces angry backlash, accusations over mine tragedy

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has come under fire over a mine disaster in northwestern Turkey last Friday that claimed the lives of 41 miners due its failure to prioritize the safety of workers and for portraying a preventable accident as “fate.”

A methane blast that ripped through the mine near the small coal town of Amasra on Turkey’s Black Sea coast killed 41 miners and injured 28, five of them seriously. The mine was operated by the state-owned Turkish Hard Coal Enterprises (TTK).

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who visited Amasra on Saturday and attended the funerals of several miners, sparked controversy when he linked the deaths to fate.

“We are people who believe in fate,” he told reporters, surrounded by rescue workers. Such accidents “will always happen, and we need to understand that, too.”

His comments sparked anger among his opponents and triggered protests in İstanbul, with some demonstrators saying, “It was not an accident but a massacre.”

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who also attended funerals in Amasra, said the state was obliged to ensure the safety of its people.

“What century we are living in? Why [do] mining accidents always happen in Turkey?” he said.

Emin Koramaz, head of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), said on Twitter: “If you send miners hundreds of meters underground without taking the necessary precautions, without inspections and without creating safe conditions, you can’t call it an accident.”

Local branches of the Labor and Democracy Forces, comprising 21 entities including political parties, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations, also issued statements across Turkey following the disaster, according to the Evrensel daily, putting the blame on the AKP for the tragedy.

They mainly pointed out in the statements that what happened in Amasra wasn’t an accident but an act of “murder” and that the AKP government, which is responsible for the unsafe working conditions in the country, was to blame.

“The AKP government, which fails to properly supervise the mines and protects companies by rewarding their negligence, is solely responsible for such work-related deaths continuing to happen,” Sevil Aracı from the Labor Party (EMEP) said in a statement in Adana.

The statement in Gaziantep was read by Mehmet Türkmen, president of the United Textile Weaving and Leather Workers’ Union (BIRTEK-SEN), who said a 2019 report released by the Turkish Court of Accounts found that there was an insufficient number of miners in Amasra and that it reduced production, labor productivity and occupational safety.

“It was determined that there were 622 workers in the mine, while there should have been 1,145. No inspector from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security went to the mine in Amasra in 2019 and 2020,” Türkmen said.

In 2019 the court also warned about the risk of explosion at the mine, saying that the plant’s stabilized production depth was 300 meters and “this deepening leads to increased risks of serious accidents, such as a sudden eruption of gas or a firedamp explosion.”

Ayhan Yüksel, chairman of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, said in a  statement that government officials’ fatalistic attitude toward the explosion, instead of employing  the techniques for a safe work environment, made them think that such losses will also occur in the future.

He also underlined that the TTK should be freed from all kinds of political pressure and managed according to the operating rules of mining.

Murat Bakan, a lawmaker from the CHP, also referred to Erdoğan’s remarks in front of the coal plant regarding the deaths of the 41 miners in a tweet, saying, “He says, ‘We are people who believe in fate.’ Now I’m asking, why aren’t earthquakes and mining accidents as deadly in Europe as they are in Turkey? Are they just our fate?”

Meanwhile, CHP spokesperson Faik Öztrak said in a tweet over the weekend, citing data from the International Labor Organization (ILO), that 189 miners died from work-related accidents in Turkey between 2019 and 2021, the highest number of mining fatalities in the world in the 2019-2021 period.

The figure is more than three times that of Ukraine, which had the second-highest number of fatalities within the same period, according to data from ILO, which also showed that the number of miners who died in work-related accidents decreased to five each in Germany, Italy, Czechia, Portugal and Spain in the 2019-2021 period.

“At the end of 20 years [in power], they can still shamelessly say, ‘We don’t want to see any hazards in mines, anything [that can create] unnecessary risks.’ They don’t know that people don’t ever want to see their faces again,” Öztrak said, referring to officials from the AKP.

Work accidents are common in Turkey where economic development can ride roughshod over safety concerns, particularly in the construction and mining industries. The country has recorded 1,898 mining fatalities since the AKP came to power in November 2002, according to the data from the Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG).

Turkey suffered its deadliest coal mining disaster in 2014 when 301 workers died in a blast and ensuing fire that brought down a mining shaft in the western town of Soma. Five mine managers were found guilty of negligence and sentenced to up to 22 years in prison.

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