05/12/2018, 11.40
CHINA
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10 years on from Sichuan earthquake: rebuilding and injustice

by Wang Zhicheng

The earthquake left over  70 thousand people dead, almost 20 thousand missing, 370 thousand injured and millions of homeless. At an international conference in Chengdu, Xi Jinping writes extolling the "remarkable results in the work of restoration and reconstruction", which has become a model for the international community. The parents of children who died under the rubble of the schools forbidden to speak to journalists. Many of them are under house arrest.

Chengdu (AsiaNews) - 10 years after the earthquake that hit Sichuan, various events are taking place in the region to commemorate the tragedy and to verify rebuilding efforts. The outcome is one of light and shade: although many of the affected cities have been rebuilt, many victims have not yet received justice because the local authorities refuse to recognize any responsibility in the collapses of public buildings, especially schools, which have caused the death of thousands of children.

On May 12, 2008, an magnitude 8 earthquake struck Wenchuan, in the southwest of the province, and the surrounding areas, causing the death of more than 70 thousand people, with almost 20 thousand bodies still missing, 370 thousand injured and millions of homeless . Among the most painful situations was the death of 5300 children (according to official figures), or 10 thousand according to the parents, crushed under the rubble of their schools, which crumbled like "tofu", because they were built with poor materials.

One of these schools, in Beichuan, where 1000 junior high children died, is now a memorial museum, visited in these days by parents, who bring flowers, prayers, votive ribbons.

The area hit by the earthquake is enormous: 500 thousand square kilometers, almost the entire surface of Spain. The central government has invested money and personnel to rebuild many of the villages and cities, in areas not far from the ruins, so much so that the scheme has become a model for other countries.

Today an international conference on the continental earthquakes has begun in the provincial capital Chengdu. In a letter, released for the occasion, President Xi Jinping extols the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party for having achieved "remarkable achievements in restoration and reconstruction work, providing useful experience and inspiration for the international community in post-disaster reconstruction work."

Another great result, which emerged in the days immediately after the earthquake, was the great solidarity shown by the population: groups, companies, parishes, volunteers raised funds, emergency goods, offered manual labor for about 65 billion yuan (8.7 billion euro) showing a compassionate and generous face of China.

However, the government remains sensitive and opposed to any criticism. Parents of children who have died, who await compensation and aid promised at the time, are forbidden to speak with local and foreign journalists; many of them, among the most active, who planned demonstrations on the anniversary, are under house arrest.

Tan Zuoren, a doctor turned into an activist, who collected documentation on the many schools built without cement and without iron, in 2010 was sentenced to five years in prison for "subversion against the state". Now free, he still asks the government to at least apologize for the slaughter of Sichuan children.

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