Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 5 News List

China closes school ruins after unrest

GATHERING CROWDState television broadcast a gathering of quake heroes meant to showcase the aid effort, but many are still calling for investigations


Police cordoned off destroyed schools yesterday, one month after China’s devastating earthquake, apparently on alert for protests by parents demanding investigations into whether shoddy construction played a role in their children’s deaths.

Police barred entry to at least two towns where schools collapsed, despite an assurance by authorities that unfettered coverage would be allowed. In the town of Juyuan, a reporter from Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper was detained by police and forced to return to the provincial capital of Chengdu, about an hour away.

About a dozen police and paramilitary troops guarded the gate of Juyuan’s destroyed middle school, while a crowd numbering around 50 gathered outside. It wasn’t clear whether any of the parents of the dead children were present.

The security measures underscore how public anger over the deaths of so many children is unnerving the authorities.

About 7,000 classrooms altogether collapsed in the quake, often in areas where no other buildings were badly affected. Parents and some engineers tasked with surveying the wreckage say the collapses appear to point to poor design, a lack of steel reinforcement bars in the concrete and the use of other substandard building materials.

A month after the magnitude-7.9 quake killed nearly 70,000 in central China, Beijing is trying to switch the emphasis off the destruction and onto rebuilding and to tales of heroism in the rescue efforts.

Security forces began to clamp down after an initial openness to reporting on the quake and a mild approach to the protests.

In the nearby city of Dujiangyan, police barred even parents from entering the grounds of the ruined Xinjian elementary school.

One family knelt on the sidewalk in front, burning incense and pouring soda into cups as an offering to the dead. They declined to speak to a foreign journalist who slipped past the road blocks.

Jing Linzhong, the father of a child killed, said he arrived early in the morning, before security forces sealed the area off, to join other parents in a vigil on the school’s playground. Jing said blocking parents from visiting the site could impede the healing process.

No formal commemorations of the one month anniversary were being held in Beijing, although state television broadcast a gathering of quake heroes on Wednesday meant to showcase the massive aid effort.

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