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Rallies Honor Dead In Russian Mine Blasts

Relatives and friends mourning a miner killed in explosions at the Raspadskaya mine in Mezhdurechensk on May 11, two days after the explosions.
Small numbers of Russians have rallied in several cities across the country to honor the 66 people confirmed killed in a recent double mine explosion in the Siberian town of Mezhdurechensk.

Another 24 coal miners are still missing from the May 9 tragedy at the town's Raspadskaya mine, and rescue efforts have been suspended because of high methane gas levels in the shafts.

Around 100 people gathered in the Russian capital, Moscow, to demand better conditions for miners and the ouster of Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Aman Tuleyev, the governor of the coal-rich Kemerovo region where the mine explosions took place.

Some 70 demonstrators gathered in the Western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad at two separate rallies.

Another 30 people turned up for an unsanctioned event in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, where participants held a minute of silence in memory of those killed. Those demonstrators also backed miners' demands for improved wages and work conditions, as well as the dismissals of Nurgaliyev and Tuleyev.

Many in Russia are angry at the way authorities handled the tragedy, despite pledges that the victims' relatives will receive compensation.

Local deputy Dmitry Dolgachyov, who took part in the Vladivostok protest, accused the Kremlin of sanctioning blatant security violations at the mine, which belongs to Russian billionaire Sergei Abramovich.

"Authorities should have declared a national mourning, but they are afraid of admitting their own mistakes. They are afraid of saying that the mine is owned by Abramovich and that Abramovich owns other such mines where laws are violated in order to make more money," Dolgachyov charged. "Authorities support Abramovich and other oligarchs. The fact that they banned us from rallying here today and honoring the miners' memory doesn't make them look good."

The Raspadskaya mine accounts for about 10 percent of Russia's annual coking coal output.

It is still unclear whether protesters will be able to gather in Mezhdurechensk after local authorities banned a rally there, claiming other events were already taking place on the square chosen for the gathering.

Many suspect authorities of seeking to avoid a repeat of the May 14 rallies in the town, when angry coal miners and their families blocked a railway line. On that day, as many as 28 protesters were detained after they clashed with the police.

Andrei Timorshin, a coal miner who took part in the May 14 protest, told an RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent in Mezhdurechensk that miners were simply acting out of despair.

"Decent wages, that's the main thing miners want. There are no other jobs here, just mines, and our wages are measly," Timorshin said. "Only when such tragedies happen do we get help. Only after the noise caused by the last meeting did the governor and the city mayor hear our call of despair."

Miners have denounced, in particular, the failure of the mine's management to apologize following the deadly blasts.

The death toll of 66 includes 17 rescuers who were caught in the second blast, which was so powerful that it severely damaged buildings on the surface.

It was the deadliest coal mine disaster since 110 people were killed by a methane blast at another mine in the Kemerovo region in March 2007.

written by Claire Bigg based on RFE/RL Russian Service and agency reports
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