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China tightens media controls in earthquake zone

by Staff Writers
Mianzhu, China (AFP) June 6, 2008
Chinese police Friday restricted the movements of foreign journalists in the earthquake zone, the latest sign that initial openness on covering last month's disaster was drawing to a close.

Two AFP journalists were barred entry to the town of Wufu, where parents have bitterly demanded answers from the government why a 10-year-old primary school building collapsed in the May 12 quake when other structures did not.

Journalists from two other western media organisations told AFP that they also were briefly taken into custody and escorted out of the towns of Juyuan and Hanwang the previous day.

Hundreds of students were believed to have died when Juyuan Middle School collapsed, while school collapses in Hanwang also claimed lives.

In all, the quake of 8.0 on the Richter scale left more than 69,000 people dead, with nearly 18,000 still missing.

China initially allowed unprecedented and widely praised reporting freedoms in the quake zone as it fought to rescue those trapped under rubble.

However, signs have grown this week that China is reverting to its typical tight restrictions on reporting amid unease over the school issue.

Many parents have raised suspicions that corruption -- possibly involving government officials -- resulted in shabbily built schools, and have staged vigils at the sites where their children died.

A number of ruined school sites in the quake zone were this week roped off, with police and soldiers barring entry to both parents and reporters.

In addition, road blocks across the quake zone have been tightened up, with public notices explaining new "traffic restrictions" and proscribing "illegal gatherings" and media coverage.

The Sichuan government also has failed to provide new quake-zone press passes to foreign media for June.

Yuan Hongling, an official involved in foreign media access, told AFP on Friday the passes were in the works, but offered no explanation for why June passes were not ready at end-May.

"We don't have much experience with this. You have to be patient. Why don't you foreign media take a break for a while?" she said.

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Critical moment for China's 'quake lake', Wen warns
Qinglian, China (AFP) June 5, 2008
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Thursday that efforts to drain a dangerously swollen "quake lake" were at a critical juncture, with one million people warned to prepare for the worst.

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