02/02/2006, 00.00
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Shanxi, coal mine blast kills 23

53 others poisoned with carbon monoxide: one is in critical condition. Shanxi is the mainland's biggest coal-producing province but one of the most dangerous too.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) - A blast at a state-owned coal mine in northern China killed yesterday 23 workers and caused 53 others to be poisoned with carbon monoxide, the government said on Thursday. The blast occurred on Wednesday at the Sihe Coal Mine in China's Shanxi province when some 697 workers were mining the pit.

One of the 53 sickened by carbon monoxide was in critical condition. The report did not say if the 23 killed died from the blast or poisoning.

The report said the Sihe Coal Mine, which is a subsidiary of the state-owned Jincheng Mining Group, is one of the largest collieries in Shanxi Province and produces about 11 million tonnes of coal a year. An investigation was under way to determine the cause of the blast.

Shanxi is the mainland's biggest coal-producing province: figures from the Shanxi Mine Industry Bureau showed the province produced 543 million tonnes of coal last year, an increase of 10 per cent, from 2004. But 468 people were killed – officially - in 179 mining accidents recorded by the provincial government last year.

Government has closed 4,876 illegal pits and has identified 952 officials holding mine shares.

Chinese mines are the most dangerous in the world and thousands of miners die each year in cave-ins, flooding and explosions. Despite highly publicized announcements of government measures to tackle the problem, accidents actually increased in 2005 (+ 8.5% in the first nine months of the year compared to 2004, according to official statistics) and the worst accidents in the last 50 years took place. In December, at least 169 miners were killed in a blast in Dongfeng mine in Heilonjiang. In February, 220 people were killed in Sunjiawan mine in Liaoning.

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