Quake Parents Barred from Protesting

Sichuan parents are barred from protesting during a visit by China's prime minister.

2008-09-02
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quake-sichuan-305.jpg PANZHIHUA, China: Survivors gather beside collapsed houses after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake rocked China's southwest Sichuan province on September 1.
AFP

HONG KONG—Chinese police have thwarted a bid by angry parents to confront Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao about poor school construction during his visit to a middle-school near the epicenter of May’s devastating earthquake, witnesses said.

“I just want to see the prime minister and ask him to make a judgment on shoddy construction,” said one parent, surnamed Lin.

“With the deaths of so many children, we don’t have a place to voice our grievances and want to talk to the prime minister,” she said, adding that police stopped the group of petitioners from approaching the road on which Wen’s motorcade was traveling.

Wen was visiting Beichuan Middle School, in southern China’s Sichuan province, for the facility’s opening ceremony Monday. Many say poor construction caused the school’s buildings to collapse, killing 1,300 students during the May 12 quake.

The catastrophe left more than 88,000 Sichuan residents dead or missing.

Police also barred the early 200 petitioners, all parents at Beichuan Middle School, from holding signs demanding an investigation into the construction of the school, witnesses said.

'A lot of police'

“More than 100 parents wanted to stop the prime minister’s limousine but there were a lot of police officers there,” another parent, surnamed Wei, said.

“They didn’t even allow us to unfurl banners calling for the government to redress the injustice for the dead children,” Wei added.

Beichuan Middle School parents have been silenced previously. Police stopped them after the quake from commemorating the event by laying wreaths at the site, and several were detained.

In July, Liu Shaokun, a teacher at Guanghan Middle School in Deyang city, one of the areas worst hit by the quake, was sentenced to a year of re-education through labor for openly criticizing the construction of school buildings that collapsed during the earthquake, according to his wife, Huang Bangxiu.

Compensation issue

Also on Tuesday, parents of quake victims held a demonstration in front of an insurance company in nearby Anchang township protesting unfair compensation for the deaths of their children.

Many families were provided with 5,000 yuan by the government as compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

One witness, who identified herself as Mrs. Lin, said a Hong Kong reporter was prevented from covering the protest by local police.

“A Hong Kong reporter…was interviewing rallying parents when police interrupted her. The police attempted to take the reporter into their vehicle but she was protected by the parents and sent away,” she said..

In June, several members of the media were prevented from reporting on demonstrations calling for investigations into construction standards at Juyuan Middle School, when authorities said a temporary ban was in place because parents were in a state of emotional instability.

Separately, all middle and elementary schools in Sichuan’s Panzhihua City have postponed the start of the new school year for one week after another earthquake on Saturday. Several local school buildings were damaged, according to a local Education Bureau official.

The latest earthquake, with a 6.1 magnitude, has claimed the lives of at least 40 people, injured 675, and damaged more than 392,000 homes in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Panzhihua City lies some 800 kms (500 miles) from the epicenter of the May earthquake.

Original reporting by RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Chen Ping., Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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