11/27/2006, 00.00
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More than 53 killed in two coal mine blasts

The thirst for energy of the giant that is China is putting coal plants under pressure and safety is consequently ignored. The number of mining deaths reaches 20,000 a year.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Fierce gas explosions in two coal mines in Heilongjiang and Yunnan provinces have killed at least 53 workers.

The first blast happened on the afternoon of 25 November at the Yuanhua mine in Jixi, Heilongjiang. The blast killed 21 workers and left six missing. It was caused by an attempt to flush gas from the pit after a power failure.

Later in the day, towards evening, there was another explosion in Changyuan coal mine in Yunnan, which killed 32 people and injured 28. The mine had been operating illegally, given that it had been told to stop operating two years ago.

Rescuers were unsure how many people were working underground at the time of the blast and it is likely that the death toll is higher still.

Yesterday the authorities announced that the mine in Heilongjiang province would be closed permanently.

China can lay claim to the highest death toll of mining deaths, especially coal mine fatalities. The executives of government and privately owned plants push for intensive output, cutting back on safety measures to increase profits.

China's booming economy is increasingly thirsty for energy and this puts the coal mining industry – that meets 70% of energy needs – under pressure.

According to official estimates, in the first 10 months of the year, 3,726 people died in more than 2,300 accidents. Last year, 6,000 miners died in countless incidents (at least 16 per day).

International organizations claim the actual number of mining deaths is closer to 20,000 per year. In many cases, mine owners and local governments cover up incidents to avert the closure of mines.

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