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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
China reviews pit safety
coal mine
About 5,000 people died in mining accidents last year
The Chinese Government has closed down small mines throughout the country for safety checks after more than 500 miners were killed in six weeks, state media have reported.

The order was issued by the state bureau for production safety, just as mining officials said they had given up hope of finding more than 60 miners trapped in two separate accidents.

Nearly 40 people were trapped last Friday when water flooded the Qinglongzhui coal mine in southwestern Sichuan province. An official said most of the dead were "reform through labour" prisoners forced to work in the mine.

More than 20 others became trapped when the roof caved in at a gypsum mine in Guangxi province in the south of the country.

The recent rash of accidents are a result of an upturn in China's long-depressed coal market, which has led to mines increasing production while ignoring safety, according to state media.

The disasters prompted the state bureau for production safety to hold a nationwide meeting on Tuesday, resulting in the order to close and inspect all small state-run mines by the end of June, the China News Service said.

Officials disciplined

Fearing a public outcry, central government recently began holding local officials, including governors, responsible for fatal accidents caused by lax safety standards.

In the most recent example, the governor of northern Shaanxi province was disciplined by China's cabinet after three major accidents in April - including gas explosions at two mines which killed 86 people and a stampede that killed 17 others because of poor crowd control.

Another 20 officials in the province were either sacked or disciplined.

China is the biggest consumer and producer of coal in the world but has an abysmal safety record.

From 1 April to 16 May, Chinese coal mines suffered 62 major accidents in which three or more people were killed, resulting in a total of 503 deaths, the official Beijing Daily said.

China's mines are the world's deadliest, with more than 4,800 miners killed last year in explosions, gas leaks, floods, fires, cave-ins and other accidents.

Independent analysts say the figure could be much higher.

See also:

21 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rescue work continues at China mines
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
54 feared dead in China mine blast
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's deadly mining industry
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's record of neglect
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