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China closes nearly 2,000 mines in safety drive
Updated: 2005-11-22 15:37

China has closed nearly 2,000 coal mines since August in a bid to cut the death toll in the country's mining industry, the Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

Work has been suspended at around 13,000 mines, the report said, quoting safety watchdog the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration.

Explosions, mine collapses and other accidents killed over 6,000 miners last year, and Beijing launched the latest in a series of safety crackdowns after flooding at a mine in southern Guangdong province claimed 123 lives in August.

The government has also ordered officials to withdraw all investment from mines to prevent collusion with owners, and demanded that a manager accompany miners underground on every shift to look for potential dangers.

But coal provides around three-quarters of China's electricity, and high prices and booming demand mean many mine owners with an eye on profits ignore regulations, push production beyond safe capacity or re-open illegally after suspension.

State media said in August the country had around 24,000 mines, meaning over half are now out of operation.

The shutdowns are unlikely to have much impact on output however, because thousands of mines in the massive, fragmented industry produce less than 45,000 tons a year and many of the most dangerous mines are among the smallest.

Xinhua also reported that over 9,000 mines had been closed since January.

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