Ukraine President Says Shut Stricken Mine Pending Probe

DONETSK, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko called on Monday for the closure of a colliery in eastern Ukraine while an investigation is carried out into three explosions which have killed 106 men in two weeks.

President Yushchenko at the Zasyadko mine on November 19th.

Acting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the president's longstanding rival, acknowledged that the Zasyadko mine, a major producer of coking coal, could be closed, but said doing so would have severe economic consequences for Ukrainian industry.

Yanukovich flew to Donetsk to confer with experts at the mine on the latest blast, which killed five men and injured 66 in the heart of the Donbass coalfield.

The first of the three methane explosions at the mine two weeks ago killed 101 miners in Ukraine's worst mining accident.

"In connection with the latest accident at the Zasyadko mine, which has caused casualties, I insist the mine be completely closed until all circumstances and reasons for the tragedies ... are determined," Yushchenko said in a statement.

The president's Internet site said the statement had been sent to Yanukovich, who was chairing a session of the commission of inquiry into the blasts.

Yanukovich said the blasts had taken place in circumstances never before observed. He said Ukraine's steel industry, a major consumer of coking coal, would be badly hit by any closure.

"...Given that Ukraine has a shortfall of six million tonnes of coking coal (annually), we are encountering huge economic consequences," he told reporters.

"But this issue is not under discussion. The main thing is to prevent any more deaths. Everything necessary will be done. And if it is necessary to close the mine, we'll close it."

CLEAN-UP OPERATIONS

Ukraine's mining inspectorate said the five men died on Sunday in the same area as earlier blasts, more than 1 km beneath the surface, during clean-up operations.

All mining has been halted in the affected part of the sprawling pit, hit by four major accidents since 2001.

Sixty-six men were in hospital after the latest explosion -- half of them maintenance workers, half miners. After a blast in the same section on Saturday, more than 40 required treatment.

Several dozen miners remain in hospital after the November 18 blast. Fires are still burning and about 10 bodies have still to be recovered.

Miners have expressed concern at the accidents, but with average monthly wages of $500-$800 (242-388 pounds), far above the national average of nearly $300, many feel they have few options.

Zasyadko is described by officials as one of Ukraine's most advanced and profitable mines. But experts say working seams far below the surface increases the risk of explosions.

Accidents regularly strike Ukraine's collieries, many of which date from the 19th century. This year's death toll in the industry, in Donetsk region alone, stands at about 200.

Source: Scotsman

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