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Interior minister warns against potential new landslide at eastern Turkey gold mine

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Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya has warned against a potential new landslide at a gold mine in eastern Turkey where nine miners have been trapped since last week, local media reported on Monday.

The tragedy occurred at the Çöpler gold mine in Erzincan province on Tuesday when a massive landslide sent some 10 million cubic meters of earth contaminated with cyanide and sulphuric acid sliding down the 200-meter-high slope of the heap leach pad.

The search and rescue operation is now in its seventh day.

Yerlikaya spoke to CNN Türk about the ongoing operation on Monday, saying the efforts continued round the clock.

The minister said the soil had slid into three main areas around the collapsed mine and that there was a risk of another landslide.

“We’re in a race against time and need to be extremely careful. There’s a risk of another landslide. We are in a race, balancing the safety of the search teams on the one hand and making the most efficient use of time on the other,” Yerlikaya said.

He mentioned that soil samples, which are regularly taken to assess the cyanide risk in the area, are analyzed by the Ministry of Environment’s newly established laboratories and that the results are shared with the relevant parties.

The minister further stated that the last inspection at the mine was conducted in August and that an investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Deniz Yavuzyılmaz, vice chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed on X that Turkey’s energy ministry failed to cancel six operating licenses granted to Anagold, the company that operates the mine, referring to the incident as “a classic move” by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

This comes after the environment ministry announced the cancellation of Anagold’s environmental permit and license documents.

Authorities have arrested six people in connection with the landslide, among them several executives of the mining company, including a Canadian citizen.

The mine is operated by Anagold Madencilik and is jointly owned by Turkey’s Çalık Holding and SSR Mining, based in Denver, Colorado.

According to a news report by the state-run Anadolu agency, Anagold’s Turkey director, identified only by the initials C.D., was also briefly detained in connection with the accident. C.D. was released under judicial supervision and a travel ban, Anadolu said.

The agency also quoted Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar over the weekend, saying that daily water measurements are conducted at nine points in the mine and that none of these measurements detected any contaminants that could pose a risk to public health.

The İstanbul Bar Association has filed criminal charges of abuse of public duty, involuntary manslaughter and environmental crimes against various individuals, including Anagold Madencilik officials, former environment minister Murat Kurum and experts involved in the approval of the environmental impact assessment for the mine.

The mine had previously been declared safe from landslides in environmental impact assessments conducted during Kurum’s tenure as minister of environment, urbanization and climate change. Kurum is currently the mayoral candidate for İstanbul from the ruling AKP and has been criticized for his share of responsibility in the high death toll of major earthquakes that struck southern Turkey in 2023 and killed more than 53,000 people.

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