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Reporters kicked out of China city where schools collapsed

by Staff Writers
Dujiangyan, China (AFP) June 12, 2008
Police on Thursday kicked foreign journalists out of a city where the collapse of several schools in China's earthquake drew charges of corruption from parents of dead children.

The action, which came one month after the May 12 quake, followed a promise the day before by China that foreign reporters would be allowed unfettered access to report on the disaster aftermath.

The reporters' expulsions appeared to underline government unease over smouldering parent anger following the collapse of schools in the quake, which many parents blame on corruption that led to shoddy construction of buildings.

Two AFP staff members were among at least six foreign media representatives held by police when they tried to report at collapsed schools on Thursday.

Police grabbed the AFP staff and roughly threw them into a police van, damaging a camera, near the Juyuan Middle School where hundreds of students died in the quake.

They were later taken to government headquarters in Dujiangyan city and held there for more than an hour before being ordered out of the city.

"You cannot report anywhere in Dujiangyan. You must leave," a police officer said to the pair as they were being held.

Despite promises of free reporting, authorities have displayed increasing unease over the issue of the roughly 7,000 collapsed schools, many of which crumbled while adjacent buildings held firm.

Over the past week, the ruins of several such schools have been sealed off after increasingly vocal demands by parents for an investigation.

Parents said earlier this week they had received condolence letters and offers of "comfort money" from the Sichuan provincial government, but what they wanted was a full investigation and justice for their dead children.

"We refuse to accept the money until the government investigates what happened," a parent who gave only his surname, Liu, told AFP on Thursday.

The man's 13-year-old son, his only child, died at Juyuan Middle School. Parents say about 500 children died there.

Liu said parents had been offered amounts ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (2,900-4,300 dollars).

"Corruption was definitely involved in these cases," he said.

On Wednesday, a top national official denied to some of the same journalists who were expelled that China was tightening up on media coverage in the disaster zone.

"Our open attitude has not changed," said Wang Guoqing, vice-director of the news division of the nation's Cabinet.

"We will soon host the Olympics and even more reporters will come. Our door is open. It will not close," he told reporters in the Sichuan capital, Chengdu.

Wang made the comment immediately after the journalists were handed new government-issued reporters' credentials that explicitly stated reporting was allowed in Dujiangyan and several other cities.

The AFP staff members evicted from Dujiangyan on Thursday were wearing those passes.

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China's quake homeless endure with stoicism
Mianzhu, China (AFP) June 12, 2008
His home destroyed and future uncertain, 51-year-old welder Jiang Cheng would seem to be at his lowest ebb as he swelters in a camp for those displaced by China's earthquake.

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