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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coal Miners Picket White House

More than 500 Russian coal miners began picketing the White House on Wednesday and warned of a national strike if the government did not pay its debt to the coal mining industry by the end of the week.

Vitaly Budko, head of the Russian committee of the Independent Union of Coal Miners, said that if the miners' demands were not met by Friday, they would call for a nationwide shutdown of coal production and shipments.

He said that the miners had asked to meet with either President Boris Yeltsin or Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, but had received no response as of Wednesday morning.

Budko said the government owed over 800 billion rubles ($457 million) for coal that it purchased in 1993 and in the first quarter of this year. The coal industry is also owed over 1 trillion rubles in non-government orders.

If miners are forced to strike, Budko said, they will call for immediate presidential elections and dismissal of the government, which is "unable to guarantee people's constitutional rights."

Lidia Mrykhina, head of the Women's Committee of Shakhty, a mining town of 250,000 near the southern Russian city of Rostov, said that "10 women come to me every day in despair and say they are unable to feed their children."

Most coal miners in the Rostov region have not been paid since December, according to Fyodor Smolnik, a mine worker from the region. Miners who have been paid have received only 10 to 30 percent of their salaries, which average 280,000 rubles.

"Our demands are purely economic, so far," he said. "But we will go on a major strike if they are ignored."

Over 600,000 miners held a one-day warning strike March 1 to demonstrate their readiness for concerted protest actions.