Lusaka - Beijing has released 500 000 dollars (about R3-million) for families of 49 workers who died in a blast last week at a Chinese-owned explosives factory in Zambia, a Chinese foreign ministry statement said Wednesday.

The money is part of interim measures to assist the families of the deceased before comprehensive compensation is worked out, Chinese foreign affairs official Gu Xiaojie said in a statement.

Gu said the Beijing government has also provided food, blankets and portable radios to the families of workers who perished in last Wednesday's blast at the BGGRIMM factory, located at a copper mine in Chambishi, north of Lusaka.

"The 500 000 dollars (about R3-million) is part of the emergency fund to the relatives of the Chambishi accident," Gu said. "We felt like we had lost our own people."

The tragedy sparked accusations that the Chinese management had flouted standard security norms.

Monday's funeral for the dead, on a day of national mourning, saw protests against China and Chinese officials attending the ceremony.

BGGRIMM Explosives is a 7,6-million dollar (about R46-million) joint venture between China's Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the NFC Africa Mining Company.

Copper mining generates about 60 percent of foreign earnings in this poor southern African country, which has been struggling since the 1970s following a drop in copper prices.

A former British colony, Zambia is one of the world's poorest countries with close to 64 percent of its 10-million inhabitants living on less than one dollar (about R6) a day. - Sapa-AFP