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Death Toll Rises to 24 in Colliery Fire Cover-up Scandal
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The death toll in a colliery fire in central China has risen to 24 after a cover-up scandal was revealed on Saturday.


"The number of deaths is 24, not seven, as announced previously by the local authorities. The deaths of 17 miners were deliberately concealed," Li Jiucheng, director of the Coal Mine Safety Bureau of Henan Province, told Xinhua on Saturday.


Colliery managers and local officials originally said that seven miners had been killed and four others injured in the fire, which broke out under a well early on the morning of February 2 in Xing'an Colliery in Tianchi town of Mianchi county.


When reporters visited villages to investigate the accident, they heard stories of a possible cover-up.


"Five people, including the owner and manager of the mine, have been taken into custody, and four government officials have been sacked, including a deputy head of Mianchi county, the director of the county coal bureau, the head of Tianchi town and the town's Party chief," Li said.


The Xing'an coal mine had been ordered to suspend production months ago while the local government studied an upgrade plan for it.


But early on the morning of February 2, Fu Faming, the head of the mine, fearing spontaneous combustion of coal underground, ordered miners into the mine to cover the walls of the shaft with earth.


The fire is believed to have been caused by overheated high-voltage cables.


The injured workers have received treatment and been released from hospital, say local sources.


(Xinhua News Agency February 11, 2007)


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