Quake Parents Protest in Sichuan

Chinese officials deny compensation to families who lost children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

2012.01.11
quakeanniversary305.jpg Relatives of victims mark the third anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake in Yingxiu, May 12, 2011.
AFP

Parents of children who died in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake marched to government offices on Wednesday to demand compensation.

More than 300 bereaved parents from the quake-hit region of Beichuan county presented their demands at government buildings, campaigners said, although some were prevented by police from leaving home to attend the rally.

More than 2,000 children from kindergarten to high-school age died under collapsed school buildings in Beichuan on May 12, 2008, in a quake which killed more than 80,000 people.

The protesters brought along children born since the quake under government policies allowing bereaved families to have a second child, in spite of China's draconian "one-child" policy.

The parents' campaign follows similar attempts to file claims on schools' public liability insurance in neighboring Wenchuan county, where parents were awarded 50,000 yuan in compensation.

"Wenchuan was in the quake disaster area and they have already been given compensation," said a protester surnamed Zhu who joined the rally.

She said officials had initially refused to come out and talk with protesters, but had agreed to meet them after they blocked a nearby main road, holding up the traffic.

"We marched out onto the highway from the county government, and there were a lot of people standing on the road and stopping the traffic from getting through," Zhu said.

"The officials threatened us, saying that if we carried on we'd be detained."

Angry outbursts

Later, officials came out to talk to the parents, telling them that public liability regulations had been issued only after the quake, causing angry outbursts among protesters.

"The parents were very unhappy and angry," said a second parent who declined to be named. "They were all talking about their situation."

"Things were looking a bit unstable at the scene," she said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Beichuan county government office said the government was paying attention to the protest.

"We have sent out a special task force of leaders to deal with this matter," the official said. "They are dealing with it now."

Pu Fei, spokesman for the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights group, said the officials' account was likely untrue, as schools in the province had been required to take out public liability insurance since the 1990s.

"One [possibility] is that the school employees are on the take, and they didn't buy the insurance policy in the first place," he said.

"That happened at a lot of schools around the area."

The protest comes after provincial authorities announced on Tuesday that the post-quake reconstruction work is now complete.

Pu said the authorities were "playing word games," adding that there is still several years' worth of work left to do to bring the quake-hit region back to normality.

Parents of thousands of schoolchildren killed in the earthquake have been harassed and detained by police after they tried to sue the government over allegations of shoddy construction in local schools, and lawyers across China have been warned not to take any cases.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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