Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Officials chase reporters away from collapsed bridge

AP , BEIJING

Relatives lay wreaths on the graves of workers killed in a bridge collapse in Fenghuang County, in China's southern Hunan Province, on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Most state media have been banned from reporting on the deadly collapse of a bridge in southern China, with local officials punching journalists and chasing them from the scene, reporters said.

Rescue crews blasted away stone and concrete on Friday to better search the rubble. They uncovered six more bodies, and said it was unlikely any survivors would be found, Xinhua reported.

The ban, issued by the Central Propaganda Department, came on Thursday while reporters swarmed the tourist town of Fenghuang to report on Monday's accident.

Unidentified local residents roughed up five reporters as they interviewed relatives of the dead, according to a photographer and a reporter whose colleague was allegedly among those pushed around. They declined to be identified, saying they feared reprisals.

The collapse of the bridge, which had been under construction, left at least 47 people dead, making it one of China's worst building accidents in years.

The rough treatment of journalists was at odds with the responsible, concerned image China's Communist Party leadership has tried to convey ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and following the collapse. Officials have promised a thorough investigation into the collapse, and punishment for any wrongdoing.

The accident raises troubling questions about shoddy building and possible corruption between officials and contractors -- suspicions fueled by trying to control reporting on the disaster.

"The local government does not want the media to uncover the collapse," said Li Datong, a veteran journalist forced from a top editing job two years ago for running reports that angered authorities.

Li said reporters told him about the harassment in Fenghuang.

A duty officer in the Fenghuang police department, Liu Xiajun, said reporters had made an emergency call reporting the harassment on Thursday.

An official in the Propaganda Department's information office said he was "not clear" about the ban. He declined to give his name.

All China media are state controlled, but some outlets have engaged in lively, aggressive reporting in recent years, as social freedoms accompanied economic growth. However, accounts of journalists being hurt by local thugs have increased.

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