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Gas Explosion Rocks Chinese Mine, Killing 33 - 2003-08-12

China's long list of miners killed while working has grown with another deadly accident in Shandong Province. The incident focuses new attention on the tough task Beijing faces in ensuring miner safety.

Chinese authorities said Tuesday at least 33 people died after an early morning gas explosion in a coal mine in the northeastern city of Datong. As many as nine miners are reported missing.

An official with the Datong Department of Work Safety says the powerful explosion Monday killed a number of workers immediately. The official says more than 20 were killed, and adds area rescue workers responded to the incident quickly.

China's Xinhua news agency says 13 people were injured, but later died in the hospital. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Mining is an extremely dangerous profession in China, because safety standards are poorly enforced. Official Chinese statistics report more than 3,700 workers were killed in mines in the first six months of this year alone.

Last year, more than 5,000 people were reported killed in mine explosions, floods and cave-ins.

Most of the fatal accidents occur in small, privately run mines, which tend to have old equipment and use unsafe practices. International labor organizations fear the real number of miners killed may be seriously understated because mine owners are reluctant to face the consequences of reporting miner deaths.

Beijing has repeatedly pledged to crack down on safety standards in the mining industry, but the sheer number of mines across China's vast territory makes that difficult.

Moreover, China's rapidly expanding economy increases pressure on the government to secure cheap, plentiful fuel domestically. That makes it politically difficult to fulfill promises of tightening regulations and closing unsafe mines.