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Commission calls for new coal mining laws in Turkey
June 11, 2014

The head of a commission that is investigating the fire in the coal mine in Turkey that killed 301 workers in May said the nation needs a new coal mining law to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

The fire occurred in an underground coal mine in Some, a small town 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul. Protests followed the incident and highlighted the poor track record of Turkey's poor track record regarding worker safety, Reuters reported.

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 that currently do not exist in Turkey.

"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.