02/24/2009, 00.00
CHINA

Superficial calm follows rioting over lack of aid for Sichuan earthquake victims

More than 1.4 billion yuan have disappeared from the donations for reconstruction. The local authorities are withholding the aid and using it to build a highway. One person died in the riots, and at least 10 more were wounded. Many have been arrested.

Baolin (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 1,000 police officers and paramilitary groups have been keeping order in Baolin for days, at the center of the area hit by the earthquake in Sichuan, where days ago a two-day protest caused the death of one person and the injury of 12 more. The clashes between locals and the police took place because the people, who have been homeless for months, accused the authorities of misusing the aid for earthquake victims.

Baolin is practically at the epicenter of the earthquake last May that razed to the ground an area almost as large as South Korea, killing more than 80,000 people and leaving more than 5 million homeless.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy says the revolt began last February 18, when the 2,000 residents of the village of Yongquan blocked the main road, demanding that the government of the city give them the 2,000 yuan (200 euros) that the central government had promised them. The local authorities were planning to use the money instead to build a highway in the area, and sent the police to disperse the crowd. Three of the demonstrators were arrested, and one of them died in custody, leading to the suspicion that the police had intentionally killed him or had beaten him until he died. The following day, thousands of local residents went to the police station, destroying furniture and windows. The authorities then called in a thousand police officers from the surrounding area, and after a series of riots they quelled the revolt, arresting a number of people. Ten demonstrators were injured, and two of them have been hospitalized.

The rage of the earthquake victims has been increased by the news that the central government has set aside more than 128 billion yuan (12.8 billion euros) for aid to the population. But according to official information, at least 1.4 billion (140 million euros) has disappeared in the hands of the authorities and bureaucrats. 162 of these are under investigation.

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