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Coal Strikers Block Siberia Railway

May 15, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ About 1,000 striking coal miners stood on the tracks of the Trans-Siberian railway today and blocked more than 50 trains, one of several protests by restive miners demanding back pay.

Dozens of mines in Russia and neighboring Ukraine have been shut down since last week, when miners went on strike to demand wages that are up to six months overdue.

Meanwhile, Communists in Russia’s parliament demanded that Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko appear before the legislature to explain what the government was doing to solve the chronic problem.

Kiriyenko did not show up immediately, but Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Alexander Yevtushenko told lawmakers the government was working to ease tensions and pay off wage arrears. He put the overall wage debt at $600 million.

In the central Siberian town of Anzhero-Sudzhensk, miners blocked the Trans-Siberian railway, joined by several hundred municipal and state workers who also have gone months without pay. By afternoon, 50 passenger and freight trains were backed up outside the town.

``We have cut off the Trans-Siberian (railway) because our demands have not been met,″ the strikers said in a statement that also demanded a meeting with the regional governor, Aman Tuleyev.

The railway, which runs thousands of miles from Moscow to the country’s east coast, passes through the center of Anzhero-Sudzhensk.

A similar protest occurred in the northern town of Inta, where strikers again blockaded a rail line today after allowing several trains to pass overnight, Russian news agencies reported.

Farther north in Vorkuta, angry miners have barricaded their bosses inside their offices and say they will not be allowed out until workers are paid.

Many of the mines in Russia and Ukraine are unprofitable and rely on government subsidies to remain open.

Yevtushenko, the deputy energy minister, said there were 240 money-losing coal mines in Russia, and 140 were to be closed over the next six years.

Russian and Ukrainian governments had been reluctant to shut mines because there are few jobs available in the stagnant economies of the two countries.

Update hourly