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Deadly blast in headquarters of Mexican oil giant viewed as accident

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 8:14 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
Relatives of Pemex workers gather outside the premises of the building that houses the state-owned Mexican oil giant in Mexico City on Friday, Feb. 1. An explosion rocked the skyscraper a day earlier. AFP | Getty Images

MEXICO CITY — A blast that collapsed the lower floors of a building in the headquarters of Mexico's state-owned oil company — crushing at least 33 people beneath tons of rubble and injuring 121 — is being looked at as an accident although all lines of investigation remain open, the head of Petroleos Mexicanos said Friday.

As hundreds of emergency workers dug through the rubble, the company's worst disaster in a decade is fueling debate about the state of Pemex, a vital source of government revenue that is suffering from decades of under-investment and has been hit by a recent series of accidents that have tarnished its otherwise improving safety record.

Until now, all the accidents have hit the company's petroleum infrastructure, not office buildings, until the blast on Thursday.

“It seems like, from what experts can observe, is that it was an accident,” Pemex Director-General Emilio Lozoya told the Televisa network. “However, no line of investigation will be discounted.”

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto has pledged to open the oil behemoth to more private and foreign investment. His decision has set off warnings among leftists about the privatization of an enterprise considered a pillar of the Mexican state. Pena Nieto has provided few details of the reform he will propose but denies any plan to privatize Pemex.

In a debate on MVS Radio about Pemex, Congressman Juan Bueno Torio, a member of the conservative National Action Party, said Pemex should be granted more budgetary independence as part of the reform, allowing it to better address infrastructure problems that he says have been neglected under government control.

Manuel Bartlett, a senator from the leftist Workers' Party, shot back that Pena Nieto “has been touring the world inviting investors and foreigners to invest in Pemex.”

“Privatizing Pemex is taking away the control of the Mexican state.,” he said.

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