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Official Says Miners' Strike Could Destroy Russian Coal Industry

Moscow, Jan. 29 (RFE/RL) - A Russian government official warned today that a planned strike by coal miners could deal a severe financial blow to the ailing coal industry and destroy some coal enterprises altogether.

Interfax quoted Igor Kozhukhovsky, who heads the economic ministry's coal sector department, as saying "coal enterprises that now have a chance to emerge from crisis and improve their financial situation could die altogether as a result of the strike."

Last Friday, union leaders called for a nationwide strike that would begin on Feb. 1 in order to protest months of unpaid back wages and to demand greater state support of the coal industry.

President Boris Yeltsin responded to the strike call by saying he was creating a special "presidential fund" to pay the trillions of rubles in back wages. But it remains unclear where the money will come from. Miners have rejected a concrete offer of about $127 million dollars made by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. They say the offer is an insufficient half-measure.