China quake parents hold vigil beside school ruins

Parents, grieving and angry at the deaths of their children under a collapsed school, kept a poignant vigil at the ruins of the building on Tuesday, demanding that those responsible be brought to justice.

In the tiny farming town of Wufu, nearly every building withstood the May 12 earthquake — except the three-storey Fuxin Number Two Primary School that collapsed, killing 129 children.

”We come here every day,” said a woman named Zhang, who lost her 10-year-old daughter in the school, one of many that collapsed across the mountainous Sichuan province, raising questions about widespread breaches of construction regulations.

”The children are here,” she said. ”We want to keep the children company until there is a result.”

A table has been erected under a tarpaulin near the ruined school with pictures of the children surrounded by flowers.

Parents, many of whom dug through rubble with their hands in a frantic effort to save their loved ones, sit in the shade on little children’s chairs.

”Respected [Communist Party] Secretary Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao come and see us,” a big petition notice at the entrance reads. ”We believe the Party and the government will ensure justice for our children who wrongfully died.”

Under the watchful eye of local officials, the parents said the local government had told them they would know the result of an investigation into the school collapse by June 20.

If they are not satisfied, they say, they will either sue the local government or petition higher authorities.

The grieving parents, asked if they had been bothered by officials, were stoic in their grief.

”They don’t dare,” said one named Chen, who lost her 10-year-old son in the school. ”Anyway, we’re not afraid of any trouble.”

The loss of so many children is particularly painful in China, where the government’s family planning policies, aimed at curbing population growth, mean that most have only one child.

The earthquake has killed 69 019 people and displaced more than 15-million, according to official figures on Monday. The death toll is likely to rise significantly with 18 627 still listed as missing. — Reuters

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Lindsay Beck
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