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Families protest deadly China mine disaster

Relatives of victims of a blast at a Chinese coal mine scuffled demanded answers from the owners as state media put the toll from the latest in a series of mine disasters at 104.
/ Source: Reuters

Relatives of victims of a gas blast at a northeast Chinese coal mine scuffled with police and demanded answers from the owners on Monday as state media put the toll from the latest in a series of mine disasters at 104.

The protest came a day after another 11 miners were killed in a blast at a pit in the southern province of Hunan, Xinhua said. China's stability-obsessed government is nervous about any public protests, and will be anxious to keep discontent under control.

China has the world's deadliest coal-mining industry with more than 3,000 people killed in mine floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents in 2008 alone.

Saturday's explosion at the mine in Hegang in the frigid province of Heilongjiang came as more than 500 miners were underground, though most were rescued.

A dozen women, relatives of the dead, braved the freezing temperatures on Monday to take their complaints about a lack of information to the mine's entrance, where they argued and scuffled with police and mine security.

"None of the officials have died, all of the dead are the workers," one woman shouted. "The officials are all alive, the workers are all dead. Not one of those officials has even been down into that mine."

Some of the women were taken inside the mine compound, while others were put into a large white van. At least one woman was dragged screaming into a car and driven away.

Demanding answers
Some relatives complained that nobody had told them anything, and that could not reach local officials.

"Why have their mobile phones been off for several days? What's the reason behind it? Why haven't they given us answers? When will they respond to us and tell us what happened?" another woman said.

Police moved along bystanders, and formed a line with mine security guards inside the entrance to prevent unwanted visitors.

Men who declined to identify themselves also tried to stop reporters speaking to the women, putting their hands in front of cameras.

In 2007, after more than 180 miners died in a flooded coal mine in the northern province of Shandong, relatives stormed the offices of the company that operated the mine, smashing windows and accusing managers of not telling families what was happening.

High wages
Compared with other manual jobs, Chinese coal miners can earn relatively high wages, tempting workers and farmers into rickety and poorly ventilated shafts.

Safety staff knew gas in the mine had reached dangerous levels and were rushing to evacuate the miners when the blast erupted 1,500 feet below ground, state media reported over the weekend.

Central government prosecutors are already in Hegang overseeing investigations into any possible crimes or official misconduct behind the blast.

The Xinxing mine in Hegang lies near China's border with Russia and produced more than a million tons of coal in the first 10 months of this year, local reports said.

It is owned by the Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group, making it larger than most operations where colliery accidents occur.

In the first half of this year, 1,175 people died in officially recorded coal mine accidents across China, a fall of 18.4 percent compared with the same time last year, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.