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Nine Killed, Three Missing In Russian Mine Blast

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- At least nine people have died in a blast at a Russian Soviet-era mine that extracts raw material for fertilizer production, the Emergencies Ministry said.

Years of neglect after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union have made Russia's mines, which employ a quarter of a million people, among the most dangerous in the world.

"The reasons [for the blast] are being investigated," said Irina Gretskaya, spokeswoman for the ministry in the Arctic city of Murmansk.

"After the blast a fire occurred and there were 12 people in the mine. Nine are dead and three are missing," she said.

The blast occurred at 12:25 a.m. (0925 GMT), she said.

The mine was operated by a company called Apatit, a major Russian producer of the phosphate mineral apatite used in making fertilizer. Apatit is part of the PhosAgro fertilizer group, sometimes called FosAgro.

Last year, 110 people died in a blast in a mine in Siberia -- Russia's worst mining accident in recent years.