By Maxim Duncan
HEGANG, China (Reuters) - Relatives of victims of a gas blast at a mine in northeastern China scuffled with police and demanded answers from the owners on Monday as state media put the toll from the country's latest mine disaster at 104.
The explosion at the mine in Hegang in the frigid province of Heilongjiang erupted in the early hours of Saturday when 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.
Some of the women were taken inside the mine compound, while others were driven away in a large white van.
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.
The protest came a day after another 11 miners were killed in a explosion at a mine in the southern province of Hunan, Xinhua said. Three were still missing in the latest accident in the world's deadliest major coal mining industry.
China's stability-obsessed government is nervous about any public protests, and will be keen to keep discontent over the latest mine disaster under control.
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.
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 500 meters (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 metric 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.
An explosion in a mine in central Henan province in September left 79 workers dead or missing and likely dead. In 2005, an coal mine explosion in northeast Liaoning province killed 214.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)