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China sets modest goal in cutting coal mine deaths
Updated: 2006-02-07 16:53

China has set a deliberately modest goal to reduce the death toll this year by beefing up safety and closing thousands of unsafe mines, state media said.

A miner exits the Dongfeng mine in November, after an explosion that killed almost 150 people. [Reuters]

Official figures show 3,341 gas explosions, pit floods and other accidents in Chinese coal mines killed 5,986 people in 2005, down by only 41 from 2004, which accounted for 80 percent of global coal mine deaths that year.

This year, China is aiming for a 3.5 percent decline in coal mine deaths.

"Given the grave situation, we did not set an ambitious goal," Xinhua news agency quoted Li Yizhong, head of the national work safety watchdog, as saying. "Even this (3.5 percent) will take a great effort to realize."

Booming demand and high prices for coal -- which fuels about 70 percent of China's energy consumption -- mean regulations are often ignored, production is pushed beyond safe limits and mines that have been shut down are reopened illegally.

Li vowed to press ahead with a campaign to close thousands of unsafe coal mines nationwide that has met considerable local resistance.

"The 5,243 coal mines on the closing list should be shut down completely to avoid future worries," Li was quoted as saying. China has about 26,000 mines.

The most recent coal mine tragedy was a gas blast last week at the Sihe coal mine in the northern Shanxi province, killing 23 and injuring 53.

China reported 11 coal mine accidents with death tolls above 30 last year. The worst claimed 214 lives in northeastern Liaoning province last February.

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