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Protests Disrupt Turkish Trial on Mine Deaths

A woman mourns at the Soma cemetery where miners killed in the worst industrial accident in Turkey's history are buried in Manisa, April 12, 2015.

Families of 301 miners killed in Turkey's worst industrial disaster disrupted the start of a trial on Monday, shouting out demands that charged mining executives be brought to the dock.

The judge initially called in police, some in riot gear, to try and quell the unrest. He then adjourned the hearing and called for eight defendants being held on remand to be brought in on Wednesday.

“Bring the killers here and have them look at us in the eye,” shouted one of the relatives inside the courtroom.

Soma, Turkey
Soma, Turkey

An underground fire sent deadly carbon monoxide coursing through the mine in Soma, western Turkey, last May.

Forty-five company officials, including the chief executive, face charges ranging from “killing with probable intent” to “criminally negligent manslaughter.”

After the disaster, mine operator Soma Holding said there had been no negligence and the government insisted that existing mining safety regulations were sound.

Hundreds of relatives and protesters marched through the town of Akhisar where the trial was being held, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Soma, demanding harsh sentences earlier on Monday.

Distraught protesters

Some wore mining helmets painted black and carrying the names of the deceased miners. Women collapsed in tears, touching the names listed on another banner

Many were enraged by the authorities' decision not to bring the defendants to the hearing. “Not an accident but murder,” read one banner.

About a dozen police entered the courtroom as the judge called a break until order was restored, but there were no clashes with protesters.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party leader Selahattin Demirtas, among politicians and union members observing the case, told reporters that politicians should be tried.

“There is not a single politician sitting in the defendants seats. Justice can never be fully delivered unless the court takes into account the responsibility of politicians,” he said.

The disaster triggered mass demonstrations last year with critics saying the government was too close to industry bosses and insensitive in its response to the tragedy.

The latest protests come before a June 7 national election.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) group said the trial did not address the responsibility of state agents who it said failed in their duty to protect miners' lives.

“The government's role in the Soma disaster needs to be investigated and corrected if Turkey is going to be able to reverse its terrible record of preventable mine accidents,” HRW senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said in a statement.