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China: Nationwide Mine Shutdown Reportedly Underway

Chinese officials have shuttered more than 3,500 mines due to unsafe conditions, the government-run Xinhua news agency is reporting.

The number represents more than 70 percent of the 5,000 small mines that China's State Council identified as unsafe and ordered shut down by the end of 2005.

"China will step up efforts to close down those small coal mines without a safe production license," Wang Shuhe, deputy director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety Supervision, told Xinhua.

Wang was on an inspection tour for coal mine safety in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where a March 13 explosion at a privately run operation in Wuhai City killed at least 18 of its 34 underground miners.

The news agency adds that some "small, problematic coal mines" are still running "due to various factors," attributing the information to Wang. However, Wang told Xinhua that the remaining mines must be shut down by the end of the month.

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