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Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press
In this Tuesday, May 6, 2014 photo, Iranian coal miners rest during a break at a mine on a mountain in Mazandaran province, near the city of Zirab, 212 kilometers (132 miles) northeast of the capital Tehran, Iran. The miners put in long hours in often dangerous conditions and make just $300 a month, little more than minimum wage.

MAZANDARAN PROVINCE, Iran — In the coal mines of northern Iran men with their faces smeared black push rusty metal carts down into the earth in grim scenes that seem to belong to another century.

International sanctions linked to the decade-long dispute over Iran's nuclear program have hindered the import of heavy machinery and modern technology in all sectors, and coal mining is no exception. The decision to privatize the industry 10 years ago has further squeezed workers, who put in long hours in often dangerous conditions and make just $300 a month, little more than minimum wage.

The miners tunnel deep into the mountains, working in dark, narrow passageways where the risk of toxic gases and cave-ins is never far from their minds. Above ground the men push old trolleys loaded with coal down rusty tracks. Hossein Alishah Kamandi says he moves up to 100 tons a day.

Around 1,200 miners work across 10 mines in the Mazandaran province, in a mountainous, verdant area more than 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Tehran. More than 12,000 tons of coal is extracted from the mines each month, almost all of which is shipped south for use in Iran's steel industry.

Iran's ministry of industry, mines and commerce says it has plans for improving the working conditions of miners alongside a drive to boost the production of minerals. Deputy Minister Jafar Sargheini says the ministry will grant loans and aid as part of the four-year plan for the sector, which will include safety improvements.

Here are a series of images by Associated Press photographer Ebrahim Noroozi of coal miners in Iran.

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