11/12/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Shaanxi: mine owners give "gifts" to police for protection

In the active mining county of Shenmu, the police "ask" for donations, and mine owners give 2.19 million yuan. Now investigations are underway. The problem of lack of safety in the mines, which is often "allowed" by local authorities "connected" to the property.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Police in the county of Shenmu (Shaanxi) are accused of receiving 2.19 million yuan (about 219,000 euros) as "voluntary contributions" from coal mine owners. Now there is talk of extortion, and investigations are underway, but the problem of mining safety measures remains.

The agency Xinhua reports that more than 60 mine owners participated at a meeting at the end of the week to discuss public order in the county, during which Wei Xiaomin, deputy police chief of Daliuta (an area with a great deal of mining activity) asked them to "do everything possible" against growing crime. At the end, the business owners collected the sum as a "spontaneous" gift.

Now the media are talking about "extortion," and say that "investigations" are underway. They recall the frequent accusations against the police of receiving "donations" from mining owners, in exchange for "protection," including as a security expense. Li Jinzhu, secretary of the communist party of Yulin, has ordered thorough investigations and promises the punishment of everyone responsible.

Wei defends himself by saying that since 2007, the police station has asked business owners for "sponsorship," because the government does not give them enough money. The business owners, through their representative Hao Zhichang, explain that thefts and murders are frequent in the area, requiring effective police presence.

The news comes two months after dozens of journalists were accused of taking money in order to "keep silent" a serious accident, with one worker dead, in the Huobaogan River coal mine in Hongdong county (Shanxi).

China uses coal for about 70% of its energy, but its mines are the least safe in the world. Every year, at least 6,000 people die in accidents, according to official figures. But unofficial figures say that the number is at least twice that, and many cases are covered up. Beijing has repeatedly announced "zero tolerance" in mining safety, and has closed a number of mines that do not measure up to standards. But the mines are often connected to local authorities who permit them to be reopened, partly in order to satisfy the country's chronic hunger for energy.

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