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Russia: Striking Miners in Far East to Stop Shipping Coal

Artem, July 31 (RFE/RL) -- Trade union leaders representing striking miners in Russia's Far East decided today to stop coal shipments to plants that have not paid their bills.

Union leaders meeting in the Far Eastern city of Artem voted that deliveries would stop as of tomorrow. Strike Committee chairman Viktor Yegorov demanded the government fully repay back wages or the miners could take drastic action, such as blocking railways and the runway of the Vladivostok airport.

More than 10,000 of the Primorye region's 27,000 miners have joined the nearly three-week long strike to demand payment of nearly six months of unpaid wages. Union leaders have said workers and their families are on the brink of starvation.

Yesterday, the Russian government said it had sent 45,000 million rubles (about $9 million) to the region to pay back wages. But correspondents say miners are owed more than twice that amount.

Russian Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin today blamed regional administrators for the crisis. Yasin said the administrators often kept regional electricity prices at unnaturally low levels in expectation of generous federal subsidies.

Meanwhile, workers at an electricity plant in the same region decided today to cut back their working hours because of unpaid wages. Nearly 400 workers have joined a week-long protest fast to demand payment of their salaries.