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Turkey coalmine rescue called off as investigation gets underway

Rescue operations at the stricken coal mine in western Turkey have been called off. The final death toll has risen to 301.

Following the country's worst ever industrial disaster, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Saturday: "The rescue operation was carried out to completion. There are no miners left underground."

Yildiz said crews located the bodies of the last two missing miners Saturday, raising the death toll to 301. He said 485 miners escaped or were rescued.

Police have increased security in Soma to prevent further rallies either protesting conditions at the mine, or honoring the Soma victims.

Police also detained lawyers who scuffled with police after objecting to identity checks, according to television reports. The lawyers came to offer legal advice to the victims. Police had used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in Soma on Friday as they called for the government to resign.

Miner blames company

One young miner who escaped with just an injury to his leg as he finished his shift on Tuesday has spoken out on television accusing the company owning the mine of negligence: "The company is guilty," 24-year-old Erdal Bicak said. "The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time."

Taking part in a candle-lit vigil for Soma victims in the town square of nearby Savastepe, Bicak said out of the 150 miners he was working with, only 15 made it out alive. He said inspectors had never visited the lower reaches of the Soma mine and did not know how bad conditions were.

Akin Celik, the Soma mine's operations manager, said thick smoke from the underground fire killed many miners who had no gas masks. High levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide also caused problems for rescue workers.

Government and mining officials have insisted the disaster was not due to negligence and the mine was inspected regularly.

According to the Milliyet newspaper, a preliminary report by a mine safety expert - who went into the Soma mine - suggested smoldering coal caused the mine's roof to collapse. The report said the tunnel's support beams were made of wood, not metal, and there were not enough carbon monoxide sensors.

Labor Minister Faruk Celik said investigations have been launched by both prosecutors and officials but "there is no report that has emerged yet."

jm/slk (AFP, AP)

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