Angry Kuzbass Miners Block Trans-Siberian Railway
Duma opposition vows to stymie legislation until wages paid

MOSCOW -- (Reuters) Hundreds of desperate coal miners in Russia's Kuzbass region blocked the Trans-Siberian railway on Friday, joining a string of protests over wage delays in other parts of the country, local police said.

President Boris Yeltsin's foes in parliament threatened to block the Cabinet's legislative program until Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko turned up in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and outlined his plan for solving the problem of huge wage arrears.

"The railway was blocked at about 10 a.m. (0200 GMT)," a duty police officer in the Siberian town of Anzhero-Sudzhensk said by telephone.

"It's hard to say exactly how many people are there, but according to the latest reports about 400 people are standing on the rails," he added. "One freight train has been stopped."

The officer said officials were talking with the protesters and no additional police forces had been sent to the scene.

Coal miners, a strong force which backed President Boris Yeltsin in 1989-90 in his struggle against communism, have found themselves losers in the tough market reforms launched after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many mines have closed because they are unable to compete with cheap imported coal, while others face cash shortages and cannot pay their workers.

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who oversees the energy sector, said on Thursday wage arrears in the coal industry totaled 3.5 billion r ubles ($600 million) and wages were paid three and a half months late on average.

The government says it answers for only part of the debt and has paid most of its share. But miners insist the state, which holds big stakes in most of the mining companies, is responsible for the problem and should take care of all unpaid wages.

Along with the Anzhero-Sudzhensk protest, coal miners in northern Russia kept their bosses and the mayor of the Arctic city of Vorkuta barricaded in their offices for a third day on Friday. Several dozen miners in the region were on hunger strike.

At Inta, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Vorkuta, several hundred miners stayed out on railway tracks in sub-zero temperatures for a third day, blocking the line to Moscow. More than 100 miners at the Inta pit were on hunger strike in the building of a local mining company.

"We witness protests and hunger strikes by coal miners and we want to know what measures the government is taking to tackle the issue," Sergei Reshulsky, Communist Party manager in the Duma, which holds 138 seats in the 450-strong chamber, told deputies.

Reshulsky, whose party, together with allies, dominates the Duma, demanded that Kiriyenko and Nemtsov face the chamber.

"We should block the work of the government as it blocks miners' wages," Georgy Tikhonov, a member of the pro-Communist People's Power group told the Duma. "We should boycott government's legislative initiatives."

Communist hardliner Victor Ilyukhin offered to start impeachment procedures against Yeltsin, but his initiative won no immediate support in the Duma.

First deputy Duma speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, who was assigned to negotiate with the government, said Kiriyenko and Nemtsov could not appear in the chamber.

But he said Deputy Energy Minister Aleksander Yevtushenko and possibly the full energy minister, Sergei Generalov, would arrive at 0830 GMT. ( (c) 1998 Reuters)