A Turkish court today handed jail terms of up to 22 years to five top managers convicted of negligence over Turkey's worst ever mining disaster, which claimed hundreds of lives.
The accident in May 2014 killed 301 people when one of the pits of the Soma mine became engulfed by flames and carbon monoxide gas, trapping 800 miners working inside.
The tragedy sparked protests and raised new concerns about Turkey's dire industrial safety record. Relatives and the opposition denounced today's verdicts -- handed out on negligence rather than murder convictions -- as outrageously lenient after prosecutors had initially demanded terms of 301 times 25 years for all the main suspects.
The mine's general manager Ramazan Dogru and technical manager Ismail Adali were handed prison sentences of 22 years and six months, and operations manager Akin Celik and technical supervisor Ertan Ersoy 18 years and nine months, it added.
Out of 51 suspects on trial, nine other lower-ranking mine managers were given jail terms of six to 11 years.
The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) slammed the sentences, which it said were drawn up in advance as a result of pressure from the company and the authorities.
Alp Gurkan had denied responsibility for the disaster, asking when the trial opened in April 2015 to be freed "to do our own research and shed light on the accident".
Turkey's Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) expressed outrage that the convictions had been made on the lesser negligence charges, arguing the mine had failed to take necessary precautions and had overworked its employees.
"This is not called negligence or a mistake. It is a crime. We do not accept this decision," she added in a statement.
Prosecutors said that the miners were killed after inhaling gas and toxic smoke from the fire which was caused when an abandoned pile of coal left next to an electrical transformer caught fire.
Erdogan had notoriously appeared to play down the disaster, saying that "accidents are in the nature of the business" and comparing it to accidents in industrial revolution-era Britain.
The verdict hearing had been scheduled for July 9, the day Erdogan was inaugurated for a third term.
However, it was postponed after one of the judges fell sick. The tragedy sparked protests that rattled the government a year after mass nationwide anti-government rallies, with an advisor to Erdogan, Yusuf Yerkel, inflaming tensions by kicking a protester in Soma.
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