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Kazakhstan says 32 killed in mine fire

KARAGANDA (AFP) – Kazakhstan said yesterday that 32 people died in a fire in yet another deadly accident at a mine owned by ArcelorMittal, with over a dozen still missing, in the Central Asian country’s worst disaster in years.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the Luxembourg-listed steel and mining giant the “worst” company “in our history” while the firm announced a preliminary deal on the nationalisation of its local operations. Tokayev had earlier ordered his government to take control of the Kazakh branch of the company.

“ArcelorMittal can confirm that the two parties have… recently signed a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to Kazakhstan,” the global steel giant said in a statement.

At the mine, emergency workers comforted local community members, especially women, as they waited for news of those who had been working below the surface.

Dozens gathered in a waiting room, some with their heads in their hands and all looking anxious.

ArcelorMittal has a history of deadly disasters in Kazakhstan and is regularly accused of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev expresses condolences to relatives of miners who died in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. PHOTO: AP

The fire was one of the deadliest in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history and came just two months after five miners were killed in a blast at a site owned by the company.

“At the Kostenko mine as of 4pm the bodies of 32 people have been found,” the emergency situations ministry said in a statement. “The search for 14 miners is continuing.”

“This is a tragedy,” Tokayev said as he met with families of the victims in the Karaganda region.

He called for a day of national mourning today.

“This company has turned out to be the worst in our history from the point of view of cooperation between a company and the government,” Tokayev said.

He asked the deputy governor of the Karaganda region, Vadim Basin, who used to work for ArcelorMittal, to head the company.

“The current management of the company cannot do anything,” he added.

No cause of the accident had been announced, with Tokayev saying an investigative commission would be set up.