Russia coal miners protest after deadly blasts

MOSCOW, May 15 (Reuters) - Russian riot police were called in to disperse coal miners and their families who had blocked a railway line in Siberia to protest against a mine accident last weekend which killed at least 66 people.

Footage obtained by Reuters Television showed dozens of people holding candles in the dark in the town of Mezhdurechensk before the riot police moved in late on Friday.

Men, most of them young, began pelting the policemen with stones, while others were dragged off and arrested.

Russian agencies cited regional governor Aman Tuleyev as saying the protest was the work of young people and bandits.

"The young people had been purposefully stirred up," Tuleyev said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

Police said 28 people had been arrested and could be charged with blocking the railway, the agency said.

The protest was reminiscent of last summer's demonstrations in the cement-making town of Pikalyovo, where hundreds of workers blocked a motorway in protest over job cuts and unpaid wages. [ID:nL2642787]

That protest led to direct intervention by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. [ID:nL4450983] Shortly afterwards, President Dmitry Medvedev warned regional governors they would be sacked if they were unable to control such protests. [ID:nLA156089]

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said Tuleyev met Raspadskaya


miners on Saturday. He said workers would continue to be paid while the mine was closed, and that a full investigation would be carried out into the cause of the accident.

Separate footage from Mezhdurechensk's Kvant television showed hundreds of protesters standing outside a cultural centre on Friday demanding improved wages and working conditions.

"The main thing is, none of the managers came to ask for forgiveness, not one of them," a protester told the broadcaster.

Search operations for 24 missing miners and rescue workers have been suspended because of high methane gas levels in the mine. [ID:nLDE64D020]

The disaster was the deadliest since 110 people were killed by a methane blast at another mine in the coal-rich Kemerovo region in March 2007.

The Raspadskaya mine accounts for about 10 percent of Russia's annual coking coal output, according to analysts. (Reporting by Alfred Kueppers; editing by Myra MacDonald)