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16 dead after China gold mine fire

Rescue workers have rushed to free seven workers trapped in a gold mine in eastern China after an underground fire killed at least 16.

The fire that broke out at the Lingnan Gold Mine in Zhaoyuan city in eastern Shandong province had been put out and rescuers were now focused on freeing those trapped, according to the chief of the state work safety administration's policy law and regulation department.

It initially trapped 50 workers, but all but seven had been pulled out by Saturday morning, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The report said 329 people had been working in the mine.

The blaze was reportedly caused by an underground cable and the owner of the mine was in police custody.

China Central Television footage showed one rescued miner, shirtless, covering his eyes with a towel as he and others walked out of an elevator at the mine shaft entrance.

China has the world's deadliest mining industry with more than 2,600 people killed in mine accidents last year. Those figures represent a drop from previous years as the government has moved to close down smaller, illegal mines.

This week, 25 miners were killed in two separate accidents when lethal gas seeped into the mines where they were working. Nine workers were killed at a mine on Monday in central Henan province, while 16 workers died on Tuesday at a mine in south-western Guizhou province.

The Chinese government has attempted to improve worker safety, but faces huge obstacles.

Mining deaths jumped again in the first half of this year. Coal mine deaths through June were 1,261, up from 1,175 in the same period last year. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the work safety administration told the China Daily newspaper the jump was due in part to China's recovery from the economic crisis.

Last month, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered mine managers and bosses to accompany workers down into mine shafts in a bid to improve safety. However, the approach has failed to produce any impact. More than 100 miners have died in the past month; none of those killed were mine bosses or managers - a fact noted with unusual criticism by the typically docile state media.


From Belfast Telegraph