96 officials blamed for six coal mine accidents in China

China has dismissed two provincial deputy governors and prosecuted 96 officials blamed for six high-profile coal mine accidents that killed a total of 528 people over the past 13 months, the government announced Friday. All six disasters were blamed on managers who failed to follow safety rules, sometimes with official collusion, the country's top industrial and mine safety officials said at a news conference.

The communist government has tried without success in recent years to reduce the carnage in China's coal mines, which are by far the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 deaths annually in fires, explosions and other disasters.

"We hope that all coal mines will learn from the bitter lessons these accidents have taught and will strengthen their safety precautions," said Li Yizhong, director of China's industrial safety agency. Li complained that management standards at China's biggest state-owned mines were deteriorating despite repeated official promises to improve safety. He complained that operators of some small, private mines "don't respect life."

The deputy governors of Shaanxi province in the northwest and Guangdong in southern China were dismissed after being found partially responsible for mine accidents, according to Chen Changzhi, deputy minister of the Ministry of Supervision. In addition, 96 officials were prosecuted and 126 other officials were demoted or fired, Li and the other officials announced.

Li said he didn't know what penalties the officials might face if convicted of criminal charges, but he said some possible offenses carry prison terms of up to seven years. He said the most severe punishment that his department can impose is removing an official from his post.

In China's deadliest recent coal mine accident, at least 169 miners were killed when coal dust caught fire at the Dongfeng Coal Mine in Qitaihe, a northeastern city.

In February, an explosion in the Sunjiawan Coal Mine, also in China's northeast, killed 214 miners. It was the country's deadliest reported mine accident since the 1949 communist revolution.

Aside from coal mines, China's fatality rate from other industrial accidents was falling, Li said. Zhao Tiechui, deputy director of China's mine safety agency, appealed to the public and mine employees to report safety violations and accidents that mine managers try to cover up, reports the AP. I.L.

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