The NewsFuror

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ozone hole shrinks by nearly a third

PARIS, Oct 3: The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank by 30 per cent this year compared with the record loss recorded in 2006, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Wednesday.

Measurements made by the agency’s Envisat satellite found a peak loss in the ozone layer of 27.7 million tonnes, compared to 40 million tonnes last year, it said in a press release.

Ozone, a molecule of oxygen, forms a thin layer in the stratosphere, filtering out dangerous ultraviolet sunlight that damages vegetation and can cause skin cancer and cataracts.

The protectively layer has been badly damaged by man-made chlorine-based chemicals.

The hole — in essence, a thinning of the layer — goes through a cycle each year as the chemical reaction that drives depletion peaks during the deep chill of the southern hemisphere winter, from late August to October.

In 2006, the ozone hole at its biggest measured 28 million square kilometres; in 2007, it was 24.7 million sq kms, or roughly the size of North America.

Ronald van der A, a senior project scientist at Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI), said this year’s improvement could not be seen as a confirmation that the ozone layer was in recovery.

“This year’s ozone hole was less centred on the South Pole as in other years, which allowed it to mix with warmer air, reducing the growth of the hole, because ozone is depleted at temperatures less than -78 degrees Celsius (-108 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said.

Over the last decade, the ozone layer has thinned by about 0.3 percent per year on a global scale.

Last Sept 22, nearly 200 countries agreed to accelerate the elimination of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), a category of ozone-destroying chemicals.

Under the deal reached at a UN-sponsored conference in Montreal, developed countries will phase out the production of HCFCs by 2020 while developing states have until 2030 — 10 years earlier than previously promised.

The agreement changes the timetable that had been set in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol, which aims to eliminate the use of HCFCs and similar chemicals once commonly found in refrigerators, fire retardants and aerosol sprays.

World’s first osmotic power plant planned

OSLO: Norway plans to build the world’s first osmotic power plant, a renewable energy source that makes use of the pressure built up between sea water and fresh water, Norwegian energy group Statkraft said on Wednesday. Osmotic power is based on the natural process of osmosis.

In an osmotic power plant, sea water and fresh water are separated by a membrane. The sea water draws the fresh water through the membrane, thereby increasing the pressure on the sea water side. The increased pressure is used to produce power with a turbine, Statkraft said.

“Osmotic power is a very promising technology,” the head of Statkraft, Baard Mikkelsen, said in a statement.

“It is clean and (greenhouse gas) emission-free, and could become competitive within a few years.” According to Statkraft, the technology could produce some 1,600 terawatt hours (TWh) worldwide.

The prototype of the osmotic power plant is being built in Hurum in southeastern Norway and could produce between two and four kilowatt hours (KWh).

Australia plans to close doors on African refugees

SYDNEY, Oct 3: Australia will not take any more refugees from Africa until at least the middle of next year, Prime Minister John Howard said on Wednesday, triggering charges of a vote stunt ahead of national elections.

Howard rejected any suggestion of racism, saying Australia’s 13,000-a-year refugee intake was being “rebalanced” from Africa to the Middle East and Asia where the need was more acute.

“It’s not in any way racially based but the programme is just going to be rebalanced, and one of the consequences of that is the reality that there will be no more people coming from Africa until at least July of next year,” the prime minister told public radio.

Howard said it was sometimes difficult for refugees to assimilate into the Australian community.

“It’s just a question of taking a common sense approach and ensuring enough time in order to get people fully integrated into the community,” he said.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said that even after July there was no guarantee the numbers would be reinstated.

The decision is a marked contrast to the situation two years ago, when 70 per cent of Australia’s refugee intake came from Africa.

Refugee groups accused the government of picking on African refugees in the lead-up to elections expected to be held before the end of November.

Howard’s conservative government is widely expected to lose the election.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said Howard was trying to replicate the boost he received with a tough stance on asylum seekers at the 2001 election.

On the eve of that election, the government refused to accept hundreds of mostly Afghan refugees whom the Norwegian freighter Tampa had plucked from the Indian Ocean.

“They can’t manufacture another Tampa but they’re trying to tap into the same redneck sentiment that they generated in 2001,” Rintoul said.

Opposition Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett said the government was giving credence to far-right former lawmaker Pauline Hanson, who has accused African refugees of bringing disease into Australia.

“There’s no doubt the minister (Andrews) is in part responding to some of the slurs put out by Pauline Hanson,” he said.

Recent violence involving Sudanese youths has raised concerns in Melbourne about how African refugees are integrating into Australian society.

An 18-year-old Sudanese man died earlier this week after being beaten in an apparent gang attack, creating heated public debate amid allegations Sudanese youths were running amok in suburbs of Australia’s second largest city.

Last year, the town of Tamworth in New South Wales state said it did not want any more Sudanese refugees, but later reversed the decision on condition that increased social services were provided to help them settle.

Andrews said that refugees from Sudan and Ethiopia often had low levels of education and had spent up to a decade in refugee camps, making adjustment to Australian life difficult.

Taliban seize Afghan district

GHAZNI (Afghanistan), Oct 3: Hundreds of Taliban captured a remote district in Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing two policemen and driving out the rest, officials said.

Militants separately gunned down two intelligence agency employees, while another in a rash of suicide bombings targeted Nato troops but only gave one of them a bump on the head, Afghan and Nato officials said.

The rebels attacked the Ajristan district centre in the province of Ghazni, about 200 kilometres southwest of Kabul, with artillery and rocket fire, the interior ministry said.

They torched the main government building, Ghazni police chief General Alishah Ahmadzai said. Police pulled out in a “tactical move” following heavy attacks, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said. Two policemen were killed, he said.

“We have sent reinforcements and will retake the district.” The Taliban militia, which has stepped up its campaign against the government in the past two years, has captured several remote districts over recent months.

Most have been retaken fairly easily but several parts of southern Afghanistan are in rebel control.In another attack, militants on motorbikes shot dead two employees of the National Directorate of Security – Afghanistan’s intelligence agency – in the eastern city of Khost, said Mirajan, the provincial deputy head of intelligence.

And a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb close to an International Security Assistance Force convoy in the central town of Tirin Kot, causing only a bump to the head of an ISAF soldier, an alliance spokesman said.

The attack in the province of Uruzgan comes a day after a suicide attack on a police bus in the capital on Tuesday killed 13 people.

New Zunes to take on Apple's iPod

Microsoft has launched three new models of its Zune digital media player in an effort to compete with Apple's iPod.

The players - which come in 4GB, 8GB and 80GB models - have wi-fi so users can automatically download music, photos, and video from their computer.

Microsoft is also launching a social networking site dubbed Zune Social to allow users to display and share music.

Last year Microsoft sold 1.2 million Zunes compared to 100 million iPods shifted since its launch in 2001.

The new players go on sale in the US in mid-November. There are no details yet as to when they will be released in Europe.

They will be priced at $149 (£73), for the 4GB player, $199 (£97) for the 8GB player and $249 (£122) for the 80GB player.

It comes with a familiar circular touch-sensitive navigation button.

New songs

Analysts are not convinced that the new-look Zunes will allow Microsoft to close the gap on Apple any time soon.

"This device with the all-too-familiar dial wheel compares reasonably favourably with last generation iPod players," said Mark Mulligan, analyst with Jupiter Research.

"Microsoft needs to come at Apple from an unexpected angle but at the moment it is Apple with its new iPod touch and nanos that is shaking up the market," he said.

According to data from the NPD Group, Apple controls over 80% of the digital media player market with SanDisk in second place with 5.8% and Microsoft in third, with 4.4%.

Microsoft said at the launch of the new Zunes that it expected the devices to take three to four years to bed in and become a legitimate rival to Apple.

"Twenty years ago we bet the company on an integrated productivity suite of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and we changed the way people work," Bill Gates said at the launch.

"Today we're making big bets on games, music, video and connecting these entertainment experiences to help change the way people play," he added.

The company also said that it would add more than one million MP3 songs free of digital rights management onto Marketplace, its digital music store which currently sells music videos and offers video podcasts free.

There were no more details about what music would be available.

Chilli compound fires painkiller

A chemical from chilli peppers may be able to kill pain without affecting touch or movement.

This might in theory mean a woman in labour could have an epidural without losing the ability to move her legs, or the sensation of her baby being born.

Conventional local anaesthetics affect all nerve cells.

But the researchers Harvard team, writing in Nature, said that with capsaicin, the chilli chemical, they can target just pain receptors.

However, a UK expert said it might be difficult to inject it safely.

The Holy Grail in pain science is to eliminate pathologic pain without impairing thinking, alertness, coordination or other vital functions of the nervous system
Dr Story Landis
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Numbness is actually a side-effect of the pain-killing properties of local anaesthetics - caused when the drug blocks signals not only from the nerve endings which cause pain, but other nerve endings which simply detect the sensation of touch.

And when anaesthetic "blocks", are injected into the spine, they can interfere with other nerves, causing temporary paralysis - such as that felt in the lower limbs after an epidural injection.

Cell door

The Harvard team used a molecule - QX-314 - which interferes with nerve signals in the same way as any other conventional anaesthetic, but which is too big to get into any nerve cell on its own.

Capsaicin, which is the substance that makes chilli peppers taste "hot", has an unique property - it can open a channel in the cell wall of nerve cells big enough for QX-314 to get in.

However, it can only do this in the cell walls of pain receptor neurons, meaning that these are the only nerve cells affected by the anaesthetic.

The technique has not yet been tried on humans, and it is hard to see how capsaicin could be used in this situation
Dr Joan Hester
British Pain Society

In rats, an injection of QX-314 and capsaicin killed pain, and caused no other effects. And when injected near the nerve controlling the hind leg, there was no paralysis.

The researchers said that this had the potential to "profoundly change pain treatment" before and during the millions of operations carried out under local anaesthetic every year.

Dr Story Landis, the director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US, said that patients in chronic pain might also benefit.

"The Holy Grail in pain science is to eliminate pathologic pain without impairing thinking, alertness, coordination or other vital functions of the nervous system.

"It holds the promise of major future breakthroughs for the millions of people who suffer with disabling pain."

Burning feeling

Dr Joan Hester, the president of the British Pain Society, said that while capsaicin had been used for many years to reduce skin sensitivity linked to chronic pain, it caused an unpleasant burning sensation that was too much for some patients.

This might be even more of a problem if the chemical was injected below the skin, she said.

"The technique has not yet been tried on humans, and it is hard to see how capsaicin could be used in this situation."

However, she said that the study broke new ground: "Selective block of pain nerve fibres without numbness or motor block would be of great benefit in local anaesthesia by injection, for example in epidural anaesthesia"

Wal-Mart set to open Mexico banks

Wal-Mart says it has cleared the final regulatory hurdle to opening its own bank in Mexico.

It said that branches of the venture, to be known as Banco Wal-Mart de Mexico Adelante, may open as soon as November.

The retail giant said that it had been authorised to begin the operations by the country's National Banking and Securities Commission.

Earlier this year Wal-Mart pulled out of plans to obtain a US banking licence after massive controversy.

'Accessible banking'

Wal-Mart's Mexican division is the country's largest retailer and private sector employer, with about 950 business units including restaurants and Sam's Clubs, as well as Wal-Mart superstores.

"With Banco Wal-Mart we will be able to complement the services we provide to the segment of the population that currently lacks the benefits of having accessible banking services," said Wal-Mart de Mexico's chief executive Eduardo Solorzano.

It is the second retailer to gain entry to Mexico's banking sector.

In 2002, Mexican retail and financial services group Elekra was given permission to launch a banking operation - leading to the foundation of Banco Azteca.

Until earlier this year, Wal-Mart had planned to create an in-house bank in the US, known as an industrial loan corporation (ILC).

However, in February it decided to withdraw its the application with the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corp - a government finance watchdog.

Wal-Mart's plans had been firmly opposed by unions, consumer groups and some state-level banks who believed the move would threaten local businesses.

However, Wal-Mart said it had no plans to open branches or offer banking services to consumers and that its plan had been "surrounded by manufactured controversy".

New green light for Sony-BMG deal

The merger of record giants Sony Music and BMG has once again been approved by European competition regulators - after a reassessment of the case.

The European Commission cleared the deal to join the two firms' music units in 2004, but a court overturned this.

A new inquiry ruled the merger would not "create or strengthen a dominant position in the music markets".

Following the deal, Sony BMG controlled artists such as Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen and Christina Aguilera.

"This investigation represents one of the most thorough analyses of complex information ever undertaken by the Commission," said EU antitrust commissioner Neelie Kroes.

"It clearly shows that the merger would not raise competition concerns in any of the affected markets."


The new company, Sony BMG, became one of the music industry's biggest players, and the merger was opposed by a number of independent record labels.

Last year, a top European court upheld a complaint by the record labels that the merger needed more scrutiny after a challenge from the independent record label group Impala, which represents 2,500 independent music firms.

It said that too much of the market would be concentrated in the hands of a few large companies and warned that the deal would push up CD prices and reduce consumer choice.

Sony BMG is the world's second-largest music firm, and with rivals Universal Music, Warner Music and EMI it controls about 80% of the music market.

Taking on Nigeria's Islamic censors

A filmmaker in northern Nigeria has defied a ban on filming brought in by Islamic authorities after a popular actress was caught up in a sex scandal.

The Kano State authorities suspended all filming in August for six months after a video clip of popular actress Maryam Hiyana having sex with a married man spread through Kano, the largest city in the mainly Muslim north.

An enterprising street trader had burned it on to a DVD and was selling copies for $40 each.

Officials then acted, saying that in future, singing and dancing will be banned in movies, actors and directors will need a licence to make films and production companies will have to meet strict criteria before they will be allowed to do business.

The confidence of the general public must be restored. Their religion, their culture is at stake
Abubakar Rabo
Kano State Censorship Board

Seventeen actors have already received bans for "immoral conduct" such as drinking off set and another director was jailed for making a film showing belly-dancing women.

The state's Islamic authorities say singing and dancing are gratuitous sexual titillation banned by the Koran, and the new regulations are necessary to protect public decency.

They fear the culture of the Hausa-Fulani, the dominant ethnic group in the north, is in danger from outside influences.

Bollywood culture

But producer Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama says he has found a loophole in the state's harsh censorship powers.

They are not really concerned with decency. They make the masses believe we dress indecently and we are involved in drug abuse and fornication
Actress Francisca Isaac

His film, a Nigerian version of West Side Story, is funded by the US embassy as part of "heart and minds" anti-violence campaign and is therefore out of reach of the state censor's knife.

Kano has been the flashpoint for violence between Christians and Muslims, only last year at least 16 people were killed in protests about the Danish cartoons that satirised the Prophet Muhammad.

Kano is among 12 northern states that began enforcing Islamic Sharia, which bans indecent conduct, drinking and gambling, in 2000, although the Christian minority, usually southern Igbo and Yoruba traders, are exempt from the laws.

The conflicts are often driven by the large number of illiterate, jobless youths, who are easily provoked - sometimes by political leaders known as "Godfathers".

Mr Iyan Tama's film, Tsintsiya (The Broom in Hausa), is about a young couple who find love across ethnic boundaries during bloody riots that rocked the state in 2004.

Filming began before the ban was introduced but was completed last month.

A Muslim from Kano State, Mr Iyan Tama says his message of unity is too important to be stopped, and to convey his message he must make films entertaining.

In "Kannywood", as the Kano movie industry is known, this means scenes of singing and dancing.

"The Hausa market is very similar to the Indian film industry. There are many similarities between Indian culture and Hausa culture," he says.


But Abubakar Rabo, head of the Kano State Censorship Board and a former deputy chief of the religious Hisbah police, disagrees - saying the ban was needed to prevent the religious public attacking filmmakers.

And while the loophole allowed the filming of Tsintsiya to be completed, it will not be sold in Kano without Mr Rabo's approval.

"The confidence of the general public must be restored. Their religion, their culture is at stake. We know what the public wants," he says.

In future, actors and filmmakers will be vetted. The censors' investigations will not be done through the courts and the decision making process is confidential.

He also criticised Mr Iyan Tama for going to the Americans for money.

"This approach to things is myopic and narrow minded. If you cannot go to the local authority to regulate you, you undermine your operation," he says.

Mr Iyan Tama says he does not care if his film is banned in Kano, and hopes his latest offering will be seen and accepted by a world audience.

"We are being punished because of what other people have done. Maryam was a victim. She was not from Kano, and the act was not filmed in Kano but we will be punished," he says.

"The boyfriend - the one who filmed it - is in the foreign exchange business, but no-one is saying that his industry should be affected.

'Moral messages'

The US embassy said it did not want to come into conflict with the authorities and had funded the film for its peaceful message and the jobs it created for young people.

"As we understand it Iyan Tama has a letter that exempts him form the ban," spokesman Sani Mohammed said.

Francisca Isaac, Tsintsiya's lead actress, said the state is maligning actors who are trying hard to produce films with moral messages.

"They are not really concerned with decency. They go to the media and make the masses believe we dress indecently and we are involved in drug abuse and fornication," she says.

"I am for decency, but they could engineer it so people believe I am not. It is all about what they want and right now they don't want acting."

Her male co-star Baballe Hayatu is also no stranger to controversy.

Islamic clerics burned copies of an earlier film of his when he portrayed a man who beat his wife and used prostitutes, before changing his ways.

"They are using this as an excuse because they are selfish, and want to control things," he said about the ban.

"It's just in their heads, they accuse us but it is just their selfishness."

Actor Cage catches naked intruder

A man has denied burglary after film actor Nicolas Cage confronted a naked trespasser at his California home.

Robert Dennis Furo was released on bail of $50,000 (£24,400) after pleading not guilty to the charge.

Police called to Cage's home said he escorted a man from the property after finding him inside, wearing nothing but one of the star's leather jackets.

The Oscar-winning actor called security guards at the gated community after discovering the intruder.

'No struggle'

Mr Furo, 45, who is scheduled to appear in court on 10 October for a preliminary hearing, could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

Los Angeles police officer Lt Craig Fox said that Cage was upstairs with his son in the early hours of Tuesday morning when the intruder was reported.

"He was standing there naked - except for the leather jacket," he said.

Cage had already asked him to remove the jacket and escorted him off the premises "without struggle", added Lt Fox.

The 43-year-old actor won an Oscar for his performance in Leaving Las Vegas, and has recently starred in box office successes Ghost Rider and World Trade Center.

Spears loses child custody battle

A court in the US state of California has refused to restore custody of her two children to singer Britney Spears.

Instead, Ms Spears was granted rights to visit the children. Her former husband, Kevin Federline, was awarded sole custody earlier this week.

Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner Scott Gordon extended that custody order until another hearing on 26 October to review the situation.

The couple previously shared custody, and no reason was given for the change.

However, a lawyer for Ms Spears, Sorrell Trope, told a US magazine that the judge had acted after the singer was unable to prove she had complied with several court orders.

Last month, Mr Gordon said Ms Spears, 25, showed "a habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol".


The singer, whose career has been hit by a year of frequent erratic behaviour, did not attend court on Wednesday, although Mr Federline did

"Kevin wants to maintain the custody that he has as long as he can," his lawyer, Mark Kaplan, said after the hearing.

The judge was later expected to confirm the details of Ms Spears' visitation rights.

She has already been ordered her to undergo random drug and alcohol tests twice a week and meet weekly with a "parenting coach", according to court documents.

The judge has also ordered Ms Spears and Mr Federline to complete a parenting class.

Also last month, Ms Spears was charged with hit-and-run and driving without a valid licence.

She is accused of hitting a parked car and driving away from a Los Angeles car park on 6 August, a spokesman for the city's attorney's office said.

Ms Spears could face six months in jail and a $1,000 (£495) fine if convicted of the charges.

The singer's latest setback follows a year of unfavourable headlines following her separation from Mr Federline last November.

She was dropped by her management firm last month following her so-called comeback performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, which was panned by critics.

Her divorce was finalised on 30 July and since then, the estranged couple have shared an equal amount of time with the two boys.

However, Mr Federline had been fighting for greater time and more money.

N Korea agrees nuclear deadline

North Korea has agreed to disable its main nuclear reactor and give complete details of its nuclear programme by 31 December, Chinese officials say.

The agreement came after negotiations last week in Beijing involving China, the US, Japan, Russia and the Koreas.

The US hailed the deal and said it would work with Pyongyang to remove it from the US list of terrorism sponsors.

The North tested a nuclear device last year but agreed to end its nuclear programme for aid and other rewards.

The deal was announced by Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei.

He said North Korea had committed itself to disabling its experimental nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon site as well as a reprocessing plant and equipment for the production of fuel rods.

Under the agreement, a team of experts led by the US will arrive in North Korea in the next two weeks to begin preparing the reactor complex for disablement by the year's end.

N Korea to "shut down and seal" Yongbyon reactor, then disable all nuclear facilities
In return, will be given 1m tons of heavy fuel oil
N Korea to invite IAEA back to monitor deal
Under earlier 2005 deal, N Korea agreed to end nuclear programme and return to non-proliferation treaty
N Korea's demand for light water reactor to be discussed at "appropriate time"

The facilities are believed to have produced the material for the test device detonated a year ago, proving the regime's nuclear capability.

North Korea also agreed to give a "complete and correct declaration" of its nuclear programmes, Mr Wu said.

US President George W Bush welcomed the deal.

Implementation would end North Korea's production of plutonium, "a major step towards the goal of achieving the verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", a White House spokesman said.

US assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Washington would work closely with the North on getting it removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

He described that move as a very sensitive matter.

Slow process

The latest round of six-nation talks was aimed at developing a timetable for the latest stage of the denuclearisation process agreed in February.

Under the first phase of the deal, Pyongyang shut down the Yongbyon reactor and four other related facilities in July.

It also allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the country.

In return, it received 100,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea.

A further 900,000 tons is dependent on the North completing the second phase - declaring and permanently disabling all its nuclear facilities.

Japan on Wednesday said that despite the latest agreement, it would not resume its aid to Pyongyang, citing lack of progress in the dispute over the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

The announcement came as the leaders of North and South Korea met for a historic summit in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang - only the second such meeting since the end of the Korean war.

Huge rescue push at S Africa mine

Rescuers have begun evacuating more than 3,000 workers trapped underground in a South African gold mine.

About 350 people had been rescued from the Elandsrand mine, 80km (50 miles) west of Johannesburg, by the early hours of Thursday, officials said,

Miners are being brought out through an adjacent shaft, but only 75 can be hauled clear at a time.

They became trapped at the bottom of a 2.2km (1.4 mile) shaft when a broken pipe severed power cables to a lift.

The accident happened at about 1000 (0800 GMT) on Wednesday at the Elandsrand mine, owned by Harmony Gold Mining.

Overnight a spokeswoman for the company, Amelia Soares, told the BBC that paramedics had reached the miners and that none were injured in the accident.

She said the bottom of the shaft, where they are trapped, was well ventilated and that the miners had access to water.

Rescuing all 3,200 would take some time, she said, as only 300 people can be brought to the surface every hour.

Maintenance questioned

Ms Soares said a "compressed pipe column" fell down the mineshaft, damaging steel work in the shaft and cutting "electrical feeder cords connected to the lifts underground".

The damage was only noticed late on Wednesday when miners working the day shift tried to surface from the deep shaft they were working in.

Elandsrand mine has 6.9 million ounces of proven reserves
Located 80km (50 miles) west of Johannesburg
It has two vertical shafts - a men/material shaft and a rock/ventilation shaft
A new mine, to be finished by 2010, is being built under the existing mine, which is still in use
Harmony Gold Mining bought the mine in 2001

There has been no collapse or cave-in and there was no risk of flooding, said Ms Soares.

A spokesman for South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers said the mine shafts had not been properly maintained.

"Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine, but they have not been attended to," Lesiba Seshoka told the Associated Press news agency.

The Elandsrand mine is in the Witwatersrand Basin, which holds the world's largest gold deposit.

The mines there are among the deepest in the world.

Gold remains important to South Africa's economy, but the industry has been in decline in recent years.

The current high price of gold is keeping many otherwise marginal mines open.

Mr Seshoka said South Africa's mines have a poor safety record, with about 200 workers said to have been killed in accidents in each of the last two years.