02/02/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Wen Jibao: Worst is still to come in snow emergency

President Hu Jintao, the head of the armed forces, has asked the army to support "the local governments in every way possible". The prime minister explains that the worst is yet to come, while an economist quantifies the damage: a half point decrease in GDP growth, and a one-third point rise in inflation. The government is worried about public protests.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agenzie) - Chinese prime minister Wen Jibao but has warned the nation that the snow emergency is still far from being resolved; on the contrary, the worst phase of the crisis is yet to appear.  In the meantime, millions of travellers continue to face hardship as they seek to return home for Chinese New Year, and are stranded by the bad weather. 

Wen spoke to the state council and called upon the country to remain vigilant over the problems caused by the snow, which has created "very grim" conditions for the country.  In an effort to bring a halt to the state of emergency, the council has formed an intra-ministry commission, which is charged with implementing emergency measures and managing energy resources.  Currently the damage caused by the snow has reached record levels, and is set to get even worse. 

The government has also mobilized the army: president Hu Jintao, ahead of the armed forces, has ordered the military and the police to support "the local governments in every way possible".  More than 250,000 soldiers, together with 770,000 police, are now addressing the various crisis conditions found throughout the country. 

In the meantime, the Chinese meteorological administration confirms that snow is falling in various Chinese provinces in the south, including the very wealthy province of Guangdong: the snowstorms are expected to continue for days.  The southern portion of the country is thus buried in a sort of total blackout, given the lack of transportation, staples, and electricity. 

A Chinese financial newspaper has published an interview with the economist Li Huiyong, who quantified the damage produced by the snow at a half percentage point drop in GDP growth. Li also says that the prices for basic necessities (already elevated by strong inflation) will rise by one third of one percent.

All of this, explain various social analysts, creates significant concern on the part of the central government, which is afraid of the unrest unleashed by the hardship.  Social protests are, in fact, the true alarm bell that has roused the communist party in recent years: from the demonstrations against the forced requisition of land to the demonstrations against evictions, Beijing has always responded forcefully to the requests of the population.

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