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Post-quake classes

Return to school a sign of normalcy in disaster zone.

MIANYANG, China - China's national anthem struck up and 200 young students bellowed along inside a huge tent at a camp for homeless earthquake survivors.

"Classmates, this is our school," the teacher said after the music abruptly cut off. "Each one of us must study hard and turn difficulty into strength."

A chorus of


- or "Yes!" - followed from the students.

Children went back to school yesterday in improvised classrooms across China's disaster zone, providing a touch of normal life amid grief and dislocation from last week's quake.

With a death toll expected to exceed 50,000 and about five million homeless seeking shelter, the resumption of classes also allowed authorities to portray the return of some semblance of order.

Although Beijing has mounted an energetic military mobilization in response to the quake, the immense challenge means help is not arriving fast enough.

Mindful of the problem and the growing discontent, Premier Wen Jiabao announced a $10 billion reconstruction fund and ordered all agencies to cut spending by 5 percent to free up money, state media reported. He also called a halt to new state building projects.

In the sprawling quake zone, the government evacuated more of the injured from strapped hospitals on specially outfitted trains staffed by doctors, with 242 patients leaving the city of Jiangyou for the southwestern provincial capital of Kunming.

Only one rescue was reported - that of Cui Changhui, 35, trapped for 216 hours in a water-diversion tunnel at a hydropower plant construction site.

Children were among the most prominent victims of the quake. Schools were especially hard hit. Officials say almost 7,000 classrooms collapsed, some allegedly due to shoddy construction, underscoring the problem of chronic underfunding for China's education system, especially in small towns. The deaths of so many children triggered the first flashes of public anger from the disaster, and Beijing officials were quick to promise an investigation of building standards. Anyone found to be responsible for putting students in danger would be severely punished, they vowed.

School supplies are scant. At a sprawling camp in Mianyang, students had no desks or books. Wei Wuyi, a fourth grader in Mianyang, said she dropped everything when she fled her school in Qushan during the quake, and she fretted yesterday over a lost book bag. "I like art and math class, so I hope we can have those again soon," said Wei, adding that the teacher had been "especially gentle" with the new students.

With millions of refugees living in the open as authorities struggle to find tents for them, temporary classrooms are among the first structures being built in a landscape blighted by vast piles of rubble.

Cities of government-issue, blue tents are coming to dot the Sichuan plain and are filling with survivors who have climbed down from their former mountain homes, uncertain of when, if ever, they will be able to return.

June Talks Set on Tibet

The Dalai Lama

said yesterday that he believes Chinese authorities are serious about negotiating with his representatives on the future of Tibet, and announced that new talks between the two sides would take place in the second week of June.

The exiled

spiritual leader said in London he was encouraged that Chinese President Hu Jintao had acknowledged

a meeting that took place between representatives of Tibet's government in exile and Chinese officials on May 4. It was the first such meeting since 2006.

That acknowledgment

"never happened in the past," he said.

- Associated Press