Deadly explosion at mine in Kazakhstan likely caused by negligence

Preliminary findings of a government commission indicate last week's blast at the Lenin mine was the result of negligence, said Emergency Situations Minister Shalbai Kulmakhanov, who heads the commission.

"The tragedy was down to human error, in particular a failure to follow safety rules," Kulmakhanov said, according to a statement released by the government press service.

Meanwhile, the mine's owner, Mittal Steel Temirtau, indicated it would raise the wages of workers at its coal mines who halted work on Tuesday to demand better pay and conditions.

At a Wednesday meeting with miners' representatives, Grigori Prezent, Mittal Steel Temirtau's acting head of coal mines, said "that the issue of raising workers' wages will be solved positively."

Prezent said the new wages would be announced within 10 days. The miners threatened to launch a massive strike if they are not satisfied with the new conditions.

Workers from the Lenin mine, which last Wednesday was shaken by one of the deadliest mining accidents in the Central Asian nation, and several other mines owned by the company went underground Tuesday but refused to produce coal.

The protesters demanded that their wages, currently averaging US$350 (Ђ275) a month, be raised to US$1,000 (Ђ790) and urged the international steel giant to improve safety at aging mines.

Miners were expected to decide later Wednesday whether to resume work.

Meanwhile 1,000 fellow activists, including miners and family members rallied in a downtown square outside the mayor's office in the town of Shakhtinsk in central Karaganda region, the ex-Soviet republic's industrial heartland.

Workers have long alleged that Mittal, which runs 61 plants across 27 countries, has done little to improve labor and safety conditions since taking over Kazakhstan's largest metal factory and the mines that fuel it 11 years ago. Mittal Steel Co. NV is in the process of merging with Arcelor SA to form Arcelor Mittal.

Mittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal said Saturday that the company had invested US$240 million (nearly Ђ190 million) in modernizing the complex. He also said victims' families would receive up to US$55,000 (Ђ43,300) each in compensation.