DUJIANGYAN, China - Authorities cordoned off some schools that collapsed in last month's mighty earthquake, keeping out grieving parents and reporters yesterday in another sign that Beijing is becoming nervous over accusations of shoddy construction.
Parents whose children were crushed in their classrooms in the May 12 quake vowed to keep pushing the government for compensation, as well as for an explanation of why so many schools fell when other buildings remained standing.
The students' deaths have become a political challenge for the government as bereaved parents allege that corruption affected school construction.
At Juyuan Middle School, where 270 students died, police blocked parents from entering the school yard yesterday. Dozens of people crowded behind police tape, some still waiting for children to be pulled from the rubble.
"There are still bodies in there!" people shouted.
Police refused to say why they sealed off the site. "We're just following orders from above," one officer said.
Until this week, journalists were free to interview parents who held protests and erected homemade memorials at collapsed schools.
But police ordered a half-dozen reporters to stop filming and conducting interviews at the Juyuan school yesterday. The group was placed on a bus and sent back to the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu, an hour's drive away.
Parents said the school had been sealed off since Monday, when dozens of families turned their anger on the school principal, who made a rare appearance surrounded by security officials but didn't address the crowd.
Even at a collapsed rural school that had received little media attention, a Chengdu propaganda official stopped two journalists and asked them to leave. "For your safety," Xu Guangjun said.
Authorities have promised to investigate the school collapses, but there has been no word on any findings. Lu Guangjin, spokesman for China's State Council, or cabinet, said that officials were analyzing samples of rubble but that the work would take time.
Lu told reporters in Beijing that the government took the matter seriously.
Impatient parents had tried to file a lawsuit a day earlier in Dujiangyan, saying they wanted compensation along with an explanation and apology from the government. Officials refused to accept their papers and dragged them away from the courthouse.
"We tried the law, and if the law can't solve the problem, how do we solve it?" one man who lost a daughter in the Juyuan collapse said yesterday. "Eventually, we'll find these officials. We'll sue the province, or even the central government," he said, before his wife shushed him.
Neither would give their names, saying officials would give them trouble for complaining publicly.
Not every school in the quake region was under strict control. At the Fuxing No. 2 School in Wufu, parents spoke openly by their shrine to the more than 120 children who died. A police officer on the site did not intervene. "Don't mind him," the parents said.
There have been more than 69,000 confirmed deaths in the quake, about 9,000 of them children.
Authorities began evacuating the first of 14,000 people from an area threatened by potential landslides and mud flows, Xinhua news agency said.
Hong Kong Marks Crackdown
A somewhat smaller
in previous years - estimated by organizers at 48,000 - turned
out in Hong Kong yesterday evening for the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Enthusiasm for the
coming Olympic Games in Beijing, sympathy
for victims of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province, and growing prosperity in Hong Kong because of China's economic boom apparently combined to weaken the city's once-vigorous protest movement.
Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who is bishop of Hong Kong and the highest official of the Roman Catholic Church in China and a vociferous critic of Beijing's human-rights record for many years, has moderated his tone
in the last several weeks,
praising China for its openness in handling the rescue.
with the events of 1989 may be fading, Human Rights Watch, the advocacy group, called Monday for the release of 130 people whom it described
as having still been in prison in China in 2004 after being improperly arrested or tried in connection with the crackdown.
- New York Times News Service