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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
China mine blast kills 23
Miners rescued from an accident, March 2001
China is shutting down thousands of mines
An explosion has ripped through a state-run mine in south-western China, killing 23 people and injuring four others, according to official media.

Eight miners were rescued from Huashan coal mine, near Panzhihua in the province of Sichuan, after the blast on Wednesday.

The accident happened only two days after up to 15 workers were killed in a gas explosion in a mine near Chongqing, also in Sichuan.

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

Shutting down

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

China's deadly industry
8,000 to close by December, 15,000 to stay open
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 Chinese industry's biggest killer
The 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.

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.

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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