Explosion kills 61 miners

Battling with freezing temperatures and burdened by out-dated equipment, teams of rescue workers were last night digging through rubble in search of survivors from a massive explosion in a Siberian coal mine which claimed at least 61 lives.

News of the tragedy, which was the worst recent accident in Russia's notoriously unsafe mining industry, dominated the nation's headlines, overshadowing the start of President Boris Yeltsin's three-day trip to Sweden.

The death toll rose steadily yesterday as body after body was brought to the surface following a methane gas explosion during the overnight shift at a mine in the city of Novokuznetsk, 500 miles north of the border with Mongolia.

The mine was built under Stalin, and was opened just after the Second World War. Moves have long been afoot to reform Russia's costly and out- dated coal mining industry, but progress has been slow. Miners have been forced to continue working with equipment that is both old and unsafe.

Stockholm - President Yeltsin, speaking in Sweden yesterday, said Russia will unilaterally slash its number of nuclear warheads by one-third.