05/12/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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One year on, China remembers the dead of Sichuan

A crowd of earthquake survivor’s prayer and burn incense before the ghost town of Beichuan. A minute of silence for Hu Jintao. Petitions denouncing the badly built schools blocked. Foreign journalists impeded.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The survivors of last years earthquake in Sichuan met today before the epicentre, the ghost town that was Beichuan, to remember the tragedy that killed almost 90 thousand people and left at least 5 million homeless.

President Hu Jintao observed a minute silence at two in the afternoon local time – the moment the quake struck – in Yingxiu where he was taking part in a commemoration.

A large crowd also gathered around the junior high school of Beichuan, to remember those children who lost their lives when the building collapsed.  In front of photos of these young victims, parents lit candles, burnt sticks of incense, and set off firecrackers.  Police put up road blocks 5 km from Beichuan, allowing only pedestrians pass to the epicentre.

Yesterday Hu Jintao thanked the International community for their solidarity.  Last year’s earthquake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale, was a moment of friendship and transparency for the Nation: China immediately welcomed International aid and promised local and foreign journalists that it would publish progress reports.

One year on the situation has changed.  Controversy surrounds the collapse of schools and public buildings.  Parents of children who died beneath the rubble are accusing local governments of corruption and of having ignored basic security measures in school construction. Police and courts have blocked all attempts to publish petitions or bring charges to court.  In a government statement, issued a few days ago, the authorities were cleared of all responsibility in the issue of the collapsed schools.

Foreign journalists are also being impeded: Journalists trying to interview residents including parents of children who died when schools collapsed like packs of cards were accosted by officials in a series of incidents in the past few weeks.  Hou Xiongfei, vice head of Sichuan's provincial propaganda department accused the journalists of “inciting the crowds, asking people to organise [against the government]”. Instead the Chinese media exalts the States great results in facing the consequences of the quake.

Marking Hu Jintao’s visit to Sichuan, many parents of the dead children have staged a silent sit-in to show their criticism of the government and ask that an inquiry into the destruction of the schools be opened.

 

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