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07 July 2011

36 trapped after China coal mine fire: State media

BEIJING - AT LEAST 36 people are trapped underground at a coal mine in eastern China after a fire broke out, state media reported on Thursday.

The fire started in an air compression device 225m under ground at the mine in Shandong province on Wednesday evening, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, citing the State Administration of Work Safety.

Rescuers rushed to the scene and an operation was under way to reach the trapped miners, the report said. The mine passed safety checks in October 2010 after expanding its production capacity to 150,000 tonnes a year, Xinhua reported.

China's coal mines have a notoriously poor safety record, which the government has repeatedly pledged to address. In its latest campaign, the government issued a policy last year that required six kinds of safety systems, including rescue facilities, to be installed in all coal mines within three years.

In 2010, 2,433 people died in coal mine accidents in China, according to official statistics - a rate of more than six workers per day.

Labour rights groups, however, say the actual death toll is likely much higher, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment. -- AFP