Sat, Jan 24, 2009 - Page 5 News List

PRC parents press demands in wake of milk sentences

AGENCIES , BEIJING

Chinese parents of children stricken by toxic milk yesterday pressed compensation demands, a day after a court sentenced two people to death and jailed 19 over the scandal in which six infants died.

At least eight provincial officials have been sacked and the country’s former quality inspection chief has resigned, but none has yet been charged with a crime, state media said.

Zhao Lianhai (趙連海), father of a three-year-old who was among the nearly 300,000 children made ill by milk formula tainted with the industrial compound melamine, was among four parents who handed the Ministry of Health a petition with hundreds of parents’ names attached.

The petition, shown to reporters by Zhao, reflected undiminished anger and demands for greater accountability.

“Children are the future of every family and even more they are the future of the nation,” said the petition, accompanied by the names of hundreds of parents the document said had refused the government compensation offer. “As parents of stricken children, we believe that the compensation was not established by agreement under conditions of mutual equality and voluntary consultation.”

With the Lunar New Year holiday starting on Monday, the government may hope criminal sentences handed down on Thursday will still public anger over the nation’s latest food safety scandal before this time of family reunions.

A Chinese court in Shijiazhuang in northern China sentenced two men to death for trading in melamine put in milk. Milk adulterated with the cheap chemical could fool quality checks but caused kidney stones and agonizing complications.

Tian Wenhua (田文華), the former general manager of Sanlu Dairy, the Shijiazhuang-based company at the heart of the scandal which broke in September, was sentenced to life in prison.

Two other people in the deadly trade were also sentenced to life and another received a conditional death sentence which, given good behavior, will in two years almost certainly be commuted to life in jail.

The other defendants received various sentences, with two being jailed for 15 years, the China Daily said.

The government has offered parents compensation for children killed or made ill by the toxic milk, which Sanlu executives and city officials knew about but did not report for many months.

But the petition rejected the government offer as inadequate, and said parents want to know more about the possibly lasting damage their children face.

State media yesterday said the death sentences and heavy jail terms for people involved in the tainted milk scandal showed authorities were serious in trying to lift the nation’s food safety standards.

“There is reason to believe that the trial and the punishment mark the beginning of a long-standing fight against contaminated food,” an editorial in the China Daily said.

The English-language paper is used by the government to air its views to a foreign audience.

The China Daily insisted the trials and verdicts set a benchmark for how similar cases should be handled in the future.

“The parents of many infant victims should feel relieved because justice has finally prevailed,” the paper said. “The trial of this case will hopefully set a precedent for handling similar cases in the future. It will hopefully create a better climate for food safety.”

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