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    Death toll in West Siberian mine explosion rises to 106

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    A spokesman for the Russian Emergencies Ministry said Tuesday 106 people died in a methane explosion at a mine in West Siberia.

    MOSCOW, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - A spokesman for the Russian Emergencies Ministry said Tuesday 106 people died in a methane explosion at a mine in West Siberia.

    He said 93 of the 203 miners had been rescued up to now from the Ulyanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk, the largest coal producing center in the Kemerovo Region, and that 180 relatives of the miners had received psychological assistance.

    The Russian Prosecutor General's Office earlier said a criminal investigation had been launched into the explosion.

    The press service of the regional administration said the explosion was apparently caused by a build-up of methane gas in the shaft of the mine.

    Explosions are not uncommon in Russia's crumbling coal mining industry. Earlier this year, a miner was killed February 25 when a shaft collapsed at a coal mine in the Kemerovo Region and a miner was killed and nine injured during a similar accident on March 1 at another coal mine in the same region.

    But the Ulyanovksaya mine was only opened in 2002. It produces 3 million metric tons of coal annually and its reserves total 210 million metric tons.

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