06/23/2008, 00.00
CHINA

The many untruths about collapse of dormitory on 300 students in Sichuan

The parents of the almost 9,000 students buried by the earthquake beneath the schools ask to know the truth, but the local authorities don't want to provide clear answers. Meanwhile, Beijing says that fighting corruption is essential for the future of the party, but is not talking about investigations of the collapsed schools.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Building "sturdier, safer, and more secure" schools and hospitals is the promise of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, on a visit today to the earthquake-stricken areas.  But meanwhile, the state does not seem to be truly seeking the truth about the schools that collapsed on thousands of students.

In the secondary school of Muyu, in the mountainous county of Qingchuan, a three-story dormitory collapsed, burying the students during their afternoon nap.  Their parents, who have gone there every day since May 12 to remember their children, protest that the building had only two exits, and one was closed at the moment of the earthquake, and also that the building - a former factory built about 40 years ago - was not earthquake-resistant: made of brick and prefabricated panels, without concrete-reinforced support beams, it collapsed on itself.  But on June 9, a letter from the earthquake central command of Qinchuan announced that the investigations had been ended, that "the dormitory was not dangerous", and that "both doors were open at the moment of the earthquake".

Too bad that the local sources recount that the main door was closed, that the student Hou Bin (who, it seems, will never be found) had run to open it, that 40-50 people were standing in front of it without being able to leave, and that the compactness of the crowd prevented many from being able to get out in the short time before the collapse.  Too bad that Tang Shufa found amid the wreckage, while he was fruitlessly looking for his 14-year-old son, an official document dated February 24, 2006, explaining that the building was not safe and that it had to be demolished.  But the school - the document continues - "which is a million yuan in debt, really cannot afford these reconstruction costs".  Even if now, a group of investigators has said that the dormitory was not included among the buildings indicated as dangerous in the report.

Li Haosheng, the county's communist party secretary, has refused to meet with the parents, who have gathered as a group at least 10 times outside of his office.  Now, the communist party is offering parents more than 10,000 yuan (1,000 euros) for each dead child, and is calling upon them to refrain from making petitions to the higher authorities.

"The aim of our campaign is not money. We want justice. We want an answer", Tang insists. "I graduated from this school in 1989, and even then we noticed the deterioration of the brick walls".

More than a month later, even the number of victims has not been finalised: the authorities say 287 students were killed, but the parents say at least 300 were. There is still uncertainty over the number of missing, which today has risen to 18,522 in the official count, 1,125 more than before, after claims by the anguished relatives of migrant workers in the area of the earthquake.

Today, an official report of the communist party indicates that the fight against corruption is essential for the survival of the party itself, and announces stricter controls, especially on local officials.  Meanwhile, the parents in Muyu are talking about corruption: Since 1996, they had been promised a new school, and they are asking where the funds set aside for this have gone.  They ask that this be the starting point for a new fight against corruption.

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