• ACI Russia

08/10/1998 14:55:31 Шахтеры могут скоро прекратить блокаду Транссиба

MOSCOW, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Authorities in the Chelyabinsk

region of central Russia claimed a breakthrough on Monday in

talks with coal miners who have been blocking the Trans-Siberian

railway for two weeks demanding payment of wage arrears.

"Most miners at five out of seven striking mines now say

that they are ready to unblock the railway," said a spokesman

for the regional governor.

"The governor will address the miners today and there is

hope that this may end the blockade."

About 180 people are sitting on the rail tracks blocking

cargo and passenger trains near the city of Chelyabinsk, in the

southern Urals.

There was a first breakthrough on Friday when a majority of

the strike organisers voted to end the economically damaging

blockade after reaching an agreement on a schedule of repayments

with the authorities.

However, the diehards rallied support and the blockade

resumed after a pause of just three hours as the strikers held

out for a demand that the wages of those who had stayed away

from work in recent weeks still be paid in full.

The governor's spokesman said the authorities would leave

that issue to the mine managements but warned that, unless the

blockade ended, Moscow would cut off federal funds to the

region's coal industry.

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said last week the

government would withhold cash from coal-mining industries in

any region where unpaid miners were blockading rail lines.

Meanwhile, a police spokesman in Moscow said on Monday a

group of specialists in economic crimes had been sent to

Chelyabinsk to find out whether the money that that the miners

are owed was stolen.

The blockade in Chelyabinsk, one of a rash of such actions

nationwide over the past three months, has cost the railways

more than 100 million roubles ($16 million) in July and August.

Interfax news agency said the cabinet would meet towards the

end of August to hear from a government commission investigating

problems in the mines. The miners are among the worst affected

of millions of Russian workers whose wages have been held up for

months as their employers are caught in a web of unpaid debts.

($1=6.206 Rouble)

--Московское бюро (095) 941 8520

e-mail: moscow.newsroom@reuters.com

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