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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Chinese mine blasts kill 31
Miners rescued from an accident, March 2001
China has been trying to improve miners' safety
Fatal explosions have been reported in two coal mines in northern China, on the same day the country announced it was closing thousands of unsafe mines.

Mine closures
12,257 closed since May 2001
8,000 to close by December
15,000 to stay open
At least 31 miners were reported killed on Wednesday, in separate blasts in the same Chinese city.

In the biggest blast, which was reported to have taken place on Monday night, at least 24 people died and 40 people were injured in a mine in Jixi city, in Heilongjiang province.

Seven miners were killed in an later explosion at another mine.

Chinese pits have an appalling safety record, with more than 5,600 workers losing their lives in accidents last year.

According to a top safety official, nearly 1,000 people were killed in just the first three months of this year.

Shutting down

On Wednesday, China pledged to cut mining deaths by 10%, and announced plans to close 8,000 small coal mines as part of efforts to streamline and regulate the industry.

Map showing Jixi city
More than 12,000 mines have closed because of safety concerns since last May.

The new closures will leave China with about 15,000 mines, down from 82,000 in 1997.

The official China Daily newspaper has highlighted the fact that more than $240m (two billion Yuan) - has been invested in safety equipment and safety measures at hundreds of state-owned coal mines since last year.

The government has also recently promised to invest another $700m in such facilities.

According to Zhang Baoming, head of China's Work Safety Administration, 994 people died in mining accidents between January and March this year - a 13% increase on the same period a year earlier.

Unpopular closures
Mine closures mean huge job losses
Coal provides more than 70% of China's energy
State media say China's mining deaths did fall slightly last year - but mining is still China's deadliest industry.

And independent analysts believe the yearly death toll may be far higher than the official figures.

They say that the government's pledge to jail officials held responsible for mining accidents may actually lead to more such accidents going unreported.

Several Chinese provinces last year ordered a temporary halt to production in all coal mines, in order to allow safety inspections.

But private mine operators have frequently defied closure orders and continued to operate - or reopened - sometimes with the collusion of local officials.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt reports from Shanghai
"The question is whether the safety inspections actually achieve anything"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
China's deadly mining industry
17 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
China's industrial accidents 'fall'
15 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Fifty dead in China mining disasters
10 Jan 02 | Business
Firework ban leaves 200,000 jobless
04 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China confirms mine disaster
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China reviews pit safety
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's record of neglect
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