03/20/2009, 00.00
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Artist opens web site about children killed in Sichuan earthquake

Almost one year on from May 12th quake the official tally of the school children killed in the disaster has yet to be announced. The architect behind the Olympic stadium launches a site to know their names and an initiative against those responsible for the badly built schools.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Ai Weiwei, co-designer of Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium, has launched a project - an online effort to count the children who died in their classrooms in the Sichuan quake on May 12th 2008.  He wants to find those responsible for the collapse of the poorly constructed school.

On March 18th the names ages and schools of 1.790 school children who died that day.  Ai is critical of the government, who one year on, have failed to give a full list if the young victims.

Sichuan authorities said about a week after the quake that 6,376 students had died, but unofficial sources put the toll much higher. Angry parents in Sichuan have demonstrated and pressed the government for an explanation of why so many schools collapsed while other buildings close by, remained intact. Many blamed the different outcomes on government corruption in the construction process. Many students died as they fled towards the exits and would have been saved if the building had remained standing.  Immediately after the disaster the government had promised quick and searching inquiries, but has so far not published the results.  During the National People’s Assembly at the beginning of March, Wei Hong, vice governor of Sichuan province only repeated that there is still no official number on the dead students and that the schools collapsed because of the strength of the quake, without giving any other explanation as to the high number of schools among collapsed buildings.

On site controls reveals that many of the collapsed schools were without cement support columns and were fragile.  In all probability, construction funding disappeared in corruption.

The families turned to their own consultants.  Zheng Shi, a senior architect with the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design, said in a meeting last month that many of his peers had inspected the quake zones and agreed there were quality problems with the school buildings that collapsed.

Ai said the argument was never about the construction quality of the schools because there had long been a consensus about the poor quality. "The issue is who should be responsible for such `bean curd' projects, and the government is obviously trying not to answer that question”.

With his list Ai said he would try to remind the government that some "sober" people would continue to watch the issue until all the details were released and corrupt officials were punished. He is also making a documentary and has already a dozen interviews with family’s of the victims.

Ai participated in the project of the Stadium, but he did not take part in the Olympics opening ceremony explaining that he believes in democracy, not autocracy.


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