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Russia: Siberian Miners Jeer Deputy Prime Minister

Moscow, 22 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev arrived today in the Siberian mining town of Prokopyevsk to jeers of angry miners, as the government struggles to defuse a deepening crisis in the coal-mining industry. As Sysuyev was about to enter a meeting with local authorities, a crowd of several hundred denounced the federal government for failure to pay miners' long-overdue wages.

Following the meeting, attended also by Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev, Sysuyev promised funds would be made available for the region, and said emergency food reserves will be opened up to help miners' families.

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, in the southern Rostov mining region to assess the situation there, said payment of miners' back wages will begin as early as today.

Miners in several regions have been blocking railway tracks for days to press their demands. Russian railway officials said that, by early today, more than 300 freight and more than 280 passenger trains had been halted, and that losses run into the millions of dollars.

Prime Minister Sergey Kirienko is due in his home region of Nizhnii Novgorod today. Russian TV said Kirienko is expected to discuss Russia's security situation in light of the protest strikes. The station noted that strikes are preventing goods from being delivered to strategic facilities, and that there is an accumulation of dangerous goods at railway stations.

President Boris Yeltsin, in a radio address, said miners' strikes had gone too far and threaten the state economy. Yeltsin also warned that extremists of every political faction are trying to exploit the miners' unrest for their own ends. Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, who met with Yeltsin, said strikers face criminal prosecution.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin will chair a Security Council meeting Monday about the crisis in the coal-mining industry.