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Hundreds Of Striking Coal Miners Remain Underground In Kazakhstan

ArcelorMittal Temirtau operates eight coal mines in resource-rich Kazakhstan and produced about 4 million tons of steel in 2016.

QARAGHANDY, Kazakhstan -- Some striking coal miners in Kazakhstan have agreed to return to the surface but hundreds remain underground, demanding wage increases.

Authorities in the Qaraghandy region said on December 13 that 154 miners decided to come up overnight after the regional governor, Erlan Qoshanov, met with them underground.

In a statement, the authorities also denied media reports that said police had detained several people over the strike.

On December 12, Kazakh Labor Minister Tamara Duisenova told reporters that 684 miners had been underground since December 11 at coal mines in the town of Shakhtinsk.

The regional governor's office said that representatives of the miners and their union have been in talks with the local authorities and officials of the mines' owner, ArcelorMittal Temirtau, a unit of global metals giant ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal Temirtau officials told RFE/RL that the miners' main demand was the doubling of their salaries, and that new contracts had been drafted that meet this demand.

Miners who are aboveground have been supporting those who remain underground, supplying them with food and water, and family members have brought clothes and other supplies.

"We want to support our men...they say they are determined to [strike] until the end, until they come to a compromise," said Svetlana Yerzhumanova, a relative of a striking miner.

The company said in September that it was negotiating a new collective agreement with steelworker and miner unions and planned to sign it before the end of the year.

The miners also want fully paid sick leave and for the retirement age to be set at 50. Other demands include safety improvements and new or upgraded equipment and machinery in the mines.

ArcelorMittal Temirtau operates eight coal mines in resource-rich Kazakhstan and produced about 4 million tons of steel in 2016.

Last month, copper miners near the city of Zhezqazghan in the same region also refused to come out of a mine, demanding salary increases and better benefits.

They came to the surface after their employer, KazakhMys, agreed to meet some of their demands.

Critics of authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev accuse his government of applying illegal pressure on labor unions since protests in 2011 by oil workers in western Kazakhstan.

After months of demonstrations, at least 14 protesters were killed by police in the oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16-17, 2011.

With reporting by Reuters and Current Time TV
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