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Two Chinese mayors suspended as first body of 123 trapped miners found
BEIJING (AFP) Aug 10, 2005
Two mayors in southern China have been suspended after an unlicensed coal mine flooded at the weekend as the first body of the 123 miners trapped inside was found, state media said Wednesday.

The Guangdong provincial government suspended the mayors of Xingning and of Meizhou, which governs Xingning, for dereliction of duty for failing to supervise coal mine production in the area, Xinhua news agency said.

The first unidentified body was pulled from the Daxing Coal Mine in Xingning city early Wednesday, three days after the mine flooded.

"One body has been found, it floated out," said an officer surnamed Ye at the Huanghuai police station near the mine.

Officials said it was almost impossible for any of the other miners to have survived after being trapped 480 meters (1,580 feet) underground for more than 72 hours.

"Their chances of survival are very remote indeed," Ye told AFP.

An Yuanjie, a spokesman for the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said the miners' chances of survival "are becoming slimmer and slimmer."

Using several high-power water pumps transported from neighbouring provinces, rescue teams were trying frantically to drain the shaft. But they were unable to block the flood because they have not found where the water was rushing in from.

"The water level isn't going down and is in fact still rising, although the rate is not as fast as before," Ye said.

The privately-owned mine, along with other mines in the area, had been ordered to close after another local mine flooded last month, killing 16.

But the owners ignored the orders -- an example of how China's hunger for coal to power its economic growth is leading to profits being placed ahead of lives.

Zhang Dejiang, the communist party secretary of Guangdong province, lashed out at officials and miners for colluding for profits at the expense of miners' lives.

"The miner owners ignored the country's laws, were (operating) without a full set of licences and safety measures had not been implemented," Zhang was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

"Wasn't that just gambling with the lives of the miners?" he asked.

A grieving wife told how her husband should not have died.

"It wasn't my husband's turn to go down the pit, but the boss said there were not enough people and forced him to work. Now he will never come back," Xiao Ying told Xinhua.

She said workers knew the mine was unlicensed and did not want to go down the pit but their request was ignored by the owner.

Local authorities issued a notice Monday demanding the return of 65 supervisors who fled. Eleven senior mine officials have since been traced to help with investigations.

The accident highlighted the deadly consequences of China's drive to extract more coal to power its rapidly growing economy. China relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs.

China's mines are considered the world's deadliest, with about 2,700 mining fatalities recorded in the first half of the year. Independent estimates say the real figure could be far higher.

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