Turkish police arrested 24 people, including the top officials of Soma Holding, the firm that operates the Soma coal mine where 301 miners died last week, local media outlets reported Sunday.

Those arrested are suspected of "negligence and carelessness" resulting in the deaths of the miners in an explosion and fire inside the mine last Tuesday.

The Anadolu news agency said that the number of people arrested could increase in the coming days, but those already in custody will be arraigned in court on Sunday, Turkish authorities said.

Among those under arrest are Soma Holding general director Ramazan Dogru; the firm's operations director, Akin Celik, and its assistant financial director, Ali Ulu.

Dogru and Celik this past week held a controversial press conference along with Alp Gurkan, the owner of the group, in which they said they bore no responsibility for the accident, the most serious in the history of Turkish mining.

Meanwhile, police commando units were sent to Soma from three provinces to reinforce the security forces controlling the entry points to the mining city.

Protests have been prohibited by express order of the government of Manisa province, where Soma is located, and reporters have been expelled from the area around the mine, the access points to which have been closed since recovery operations ceased.

The entrance to the mine has been sealed with a concrete wall to prevent oxygen from entering the shafts, a method emergency teams are using in the hopes of extinguishing the fires that are still burning underground.

Only inspectors and prosecutors investigating the accident have been granted permission to be in the vicinity of the mine.

Many see a connection between Turkey's European-worst average of three workplace deaths per day and the doctrinaire free-market economic policies implemented by the governing Islamist AKP party that came to power in 2002.

The Turkish mining industry registers an average of 80 job-related fatalities every year. EFE