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Russians Mourn Victims Of Series Of Tragedies

A service for the dead miners in Novokuznetsk today (ITAR-TASS) March 21, 2007 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared today a national day of mourning for the nearly 180 people killed in three separate events in Russia over the past four days.

Putin on March 20 ordered a special Kremlin inquiry into the disasters.

"Of course, investigations must be conducted at the highest level to find out the causes of these tragedies and make the necessary conclusions," Putin said.

Flags are flying at half-mast across the country and television entertainment programs have been cancelled.

The deadliest incident was a blast in a Siberian coal mine that killed 107 people on March 19. Rescuers are still searching for three missing miners. The first three victims are being buried today.

Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said today that "it will take at least two weeks to decipher [the recordings of] all the measuring instruments installed in this mine, and we've already mentioned that the mine is fitted with the most modern safety equipment. After that, of course, we will have to compare the timeline of events against gas-concentration records to determine where and when gas concentration was at the maximum."

Another 63 people were killed on March 20 in a nighttime fire that swept through a retirement home in the southern Krasnodar Krai. Most of the victims were elderly, bed-ridden residents.

On March 17, seven people died and 50 were injured when a passenger jet crashed in the central Russian city of Samara.

(compiled from agency reports)

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