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N. Zealand orders quake building collapse inquiry

by Staff Writers
Wellington March 14, 2011
New Zealand ordered a Royal Commission Monday into the catastrophic collapse of entire office blocks in last month's Christchurch earthquake. Prime Minister John Key said the inquiry would focus on why two buildings -- the CTV and Pyne Gould office blocks -- failed to withstand the 6.3-magnitude tremor. More than 70 language students from Asia died in the CTV building alone. "So many lives have been lost as a result of the February 22 earthquake that we must find answers, particularly about why such a significant loss of life occurred in two buildings," Key said in a statement. He said the Royal Commission, chaired by High Court judge Mark Cooper, would also make a broader examination of building standards in Christchurch, where a third of the downtown area and 10,000 homes face demolition after the quake. "This independent investigation is a vital step in rebuilding public confidence in the future of the Christchurch CBD," he said. He said the Royal Commission -- the most powerful investigation available under New Zealand law -- would present interim findings by September, with a final report due in 12 months. Key also announced that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard would travel to Christchurch for a national memorial service on Friday, which will also be attended by Prince William. He said Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce and opposition leader Tony Abbott also planned to travel to New Zealand's second largest city for the memorial. "This is a heart-warming show of solidarity with New Zealand by the leadership of Australia," Key said. The official death toll from the disaster stood at 166 Monday, although police have said they expect the figure to rise to more than 200. earlier related report
China asks N. Zealand for extra quake dead cash
Wellington (AFP) March 14, 2011 - Beijing asked New Zealand Monday to pay extra compensation to Chinese parents whose children died in the Christchurch earthquake, saying China's one-child policy had exacerbated their loss.

Cheng Lei, a counsellor at Beijing's embassy in Wellington, said the one-child policy meant Chinese parents whose son or daughter died in the quake had not only lost a loved one, but also their family's future breadwinner.

"You can expect how lonely, how desperate they are, not only from losing loved ones, but losing almost entirely the major source of economic assistance after retirement," Cheng told Radio New Zealand.

Officials have confirmed seven Chinese students were killed in last month's 6.3-magnitude quake, with another 20-plus believed dead but not yet formally identified after the office block that housed their language school collapsed.

Under New Zealand law, the families of disaster victims, regardless of nationality, receive payments from a government fund called the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC).

The amounts due to relatives of the more than 200 people believed killed in the February 22 quake have not been publicly revealed but Cheng said many Chinese families believed it was not enough "to lead a sound or serene life".

He said the Chinese families were a special case because of the one-child policy, which Beijing introduced in 1980 as a means of limiting population growth.

"We hope the New Zealand government will take this very special case into consideration and, if possible, can make arrangements in terms of economic assistance other than the current ones," he said.

"You can imagine, if New Zealand adopted the same policy and any New Zealand family lost its only son or only daughter."

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the New Zealand government was doing its best to look after the bereaved Chinese families but existing laws made it was difficult to single out groups for special payments.

"It's hard within the framework of New Zealand," he said.

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Japan to deploy 100,000 troops on quake aid
Tokyo (AFP) March 13, 2011
Japan will double to 100,000 the number of troops on rescue and relief missions after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast, the government said Sunday. Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told a meeting of his ministry's emergency headquarters that he had received the order from Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Police ... read more

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