Turkey needs new coal mining law after disaster: commission head

SOMA Turkey Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:31am EDT

Turkish Army soldiers patrol at the site of a coal mine in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Turkish Army soldiers patrol at the site of a coal mine in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal

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SOMA Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey needs a new coal mining law to prevent a repeat of its worst ever industrial disaster in which 301 workers were killed, the head of a commission investigating the incident said on Tuesday.

The miners were killed last month in a mine fire in Soma, a small town 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul, fuelling anger in a nation which has long had one of the world's worst workplace safety records.

The disaster highlighted gaps in Turkish regulation, not least the lack of specific rules for the coal industry, as well as insufficiently stringent inspections, local mining experts told Reuters after of the fire.

Ali Riza Alaboyun, a deputy from the ruling AK Party who heads the parliamentary commission investigating the accident, said the highly-complex nature of coal mines required a separate set of regulations.

"By doing this, we will be able to regulate inspections and training related to coal mines separately," Alaboyun told reporters during a visit to Soma.

Eight suspects including the chief executive of Soma Mining, which operates the facility, have been provisionally charged with "causing multiple deaths by negligence". The company has denied any negligence on its part.

Turkey uses most of its coal for power production, and has ramped up efforts to increase domestic coal output to reduce reliance on imported natural gas.

The government has repeatedly said that its mining guidelines are in line with those of the European Union.

The EU law in question, a 1992 directive covering underground mineral-extracting industries, is a 20-page document which contains basic requirements and broad principles that individual EU countries then use to set detailed regulations and guidelines.

The disaster prompted small-scale protests around Turkey, directed at mine operators accused of ignoring safety for profit, and at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, seen as too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response.

Erdogan vowed to pursue those responsible for the disaster.

An initial report on the possible causes of the accident, cited by prosecutors, indicated that the fire may have been triggered by coal heating up after making contact with the air, sending deadly carbon monoxide through the mine.

Bahtiyar Unver, a mining professor at Hacettepe University and consultant to the parliament commission, said investigations inside the mine would be key to establishing the exact cause.

"Fires do not occur suddenly, it must have given a signal. This is an accident ... that should not have happened," he said.

The commission has up to four months to complete its work.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and James Macharia)

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