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Russia Miners Rail Block Continues

July 30, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ A 600,000-member coal miners’ union threatened Thursday to block entrances to foreign embassies in Moscow if force is used to disperse protesting miners in Russia’s Far East, news agencies said.

Ivan Mokhnachuk, union chairman, said miners would stage a nationwide civil disobedience campaign _ including blocking of railways and highways _ if police carried out earlier warnings to remove miners blocking a rail line on Sakhalin Island, Interfax reported.

Miners began a blockade of the line six days ago to protest the government’s failure to pay their wages. The blockage has prevented more than 70 rail cars with 4,000 tons of coal from reaching a power plant.

Sakhalin Vice Governor Ivan Malakhov has said he will not allow the power station to shut down and will use any means necessary to lift the blockade. Railway Minister Nikolai Aksenenko backed his decision.

``The measure is the right one,″ Aksenenko told a news conference in Moscow. ``A bunch of 20 pickets cannot mock residents of the whole island.″

The miners on Sakhalin say they will let through just enough coal to keep the plant from switching off completely. Sakhalin is not connected to Russia’s national power grid, so much of the island is dependent on the plant’s operation for electricity.

Coal miners have staged periodic strikes and other protests across Russia since May to demand overdue wages. However, the protests have been largely uncoordinated and have not inflicted significant damage on the economy.

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