Residents of Siberian miners town go on protest after tragic blasts

Tensions rose on Friday in the west Siberian mining town where at least 66 miners were killed in an accident almost a week ago, with several hundred people protesting against the owners of Raspadskaya mine.

Police said some 300 people took part in the unsanctioned rally in the Kemerovo Region town of Mezhdurechensk. The protesters, mostly miners and their relatives, complained of low wages and lax enforcement of safety regulations.

The city drafted in extra officers to police the rally on the main square, and it passed off without incident.

Two methane blasts hit the Raspadaskaya coal mine near Mezhdurechensk last weekend, killing at least 66 people and leaving some 130 injured. Twenty-four people are still missing underground but high levels of methane gas in the mine has forced the suspension of rescue work for at least a week.

One of the rallying women said that while a miner might get an average monthly wage of 40,000 rubles ($1,300) if production targets are met, his pay would fall to 25,000 rubles ($830 if he fails to fulfill the plan.

A Raspadskaya miner at the protest said workers were forced to breach safety regulations by switching off methane level detectors in order to increase production output.

“We are forced to do this,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Raspadskaya Coal Company, which owns the mine, said the company’s management was surprised by the protesters’ allegations.

Galina Kovalchuk said wages at the Raspadskaya mine are among the highest in the region, adding that accusations about methane detectors being turned off could only be made by amateurs.

“How can one switch off a detector? It is impossible! This is a computer program. Its feature is that it completely eliminates the human factor,” she said.

The protesters drew up a list of demands, which they took to the Mezhdurechensk city administration building to give to the mayor.

However, a city spokeswoman said there was nothing the mayor could do.

“The mayor has nothing to do with the problems people speak about. These are problems for the owners of the coalmine,” Nadezhda Gulyaeva said.

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