02/15/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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At least 203 killed in Liaoning coal mine blast

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 203 miners were killed, 22 injured and 13 trapped in a coal mine gas explosion Monday afternoon in Fuxin, a city in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

Zhang Yunfu, vice general manager of the Fuxin coal industry group said the work operation was normal Monday morning, and a coal mine quake took place at 2:50 p.m. at the No.3316 working face of Sunjiawan colliery of the Fuxin coal industry group.

The gas blast occurred at about 3:00 p.m. about 242 meters underground.

Rescue operation began immediately and further investigation is underway.

Officials from the provincial government, Fuxin and other relevant departments have rushed to the mine.  The designed yearly production capacity of Sunjiawan colliery is 1.5 million tons.

Yesterday's explosion came less than three months after a gas explosion ripped apart the Chenjiashan coal mine in Shaanxi province , killing 166 workers.

The tragedy prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to pay a visit to the victims' relatives last month during which he urged cadres to step up safety work at coal mines.

The mainland's coal mines are notoriously dangerous. According to official statistics, 6,027 people were killed in coal-mine-related accidents last year, but experts say the figure could be higher as some mine owners pay off victims' relatives to hide accidents.

Accidents are often blamed on a lack of required equipment or on indifference to safety rules. Flooding, fires and other accidents are reported almost daily in China's coal mines, which are the world's most dangerous.

The government has promised repeatedly to reduce the carnage in coal mines. But officials say severe nationwide power shortages might be increasing  pressure for mines to raise coal production, boosting the risk of accidents.

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