ROME (Reuters) - A Sardinian miner slashed his wrist in front of television cameras on Wednesday as some 100 fellow workers stayed barricaded underground in a campaign to keep Italy's only coal pit open.
"We cannot take it any more. We cannot! We cannot!" Stefano Meletti, 49, shouted to reporters in a dark chamber of the Carbosulcis mine, where miners armed with explosives have locked themselves in since Sunday night.
"If someone here has decided to the kill miners' families, ladies and gentlemen, we'll cut ourselves, we'll cut ourselves," the helmeted miner said, grabbing a knife from his back pocket and hacking twice at his arm.
Two startled miners standing beside Meletti during an impromptu underground press conference grabbed his arms and tackled him to the ground.
Meletti, who has worked at the mine for 24 years, was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors said his condition was stable.
Carbosulcis, which employs 500 people, supplies a nearby power plant run by state controlled energy giant Enel. But the miners say the company does not buy enough coal to ensure the mine's survival during a deep recession in Italy.
The miners hope to pressure the government into approving a plan to convert Carbosulcis into a joint mining and carbon-capture project, in which carbon dioxide is stored underground to mitigate global warming.
But government Undersecretary of Economic Development Claudio De Vincenti dampened hopes of such a project on Wednesday, telling an Italian newspaper that the carbon-capture conversion would cost 250 million euros a year for eight years.
"That's almost 200,000 euros per miner. It's an unsustainable cost," he told daily La Repubblica.
The government is due to meet Sardinian regional government leaders later this week to discuss the future of the area.
The island, which has an unemployment rate of 16 percent, has mounting economic problems. Aluminum group Alcoa, a major employer, will close its loss-making smelter in the south of the island within a year unless it can find a buyer.
"Do not make us lose our reason to live. Do not make us lose our reason altogether," said union representative Giancarlo Sau, one of the miners who grabbed Meletti. "We are ready to do crazy things."
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Barry Moody and Jon Hemming)