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Parents of China quake victims express anger
China Earthquake XH 5448616
A Chinese family whose child died at the Xinjian elementary school burn incense and offer soda near the school which collapsed during the May 12 earthquake in Dujiangyan, southwestern China's Sichuan province, Thursday, June 12, 2008. Authorities tightened security, restricting even parents access to the school on the one month anniversary of the earthquake. - photo by Associated Press
    BEICHUAN COUNTY, China — Hundreds of grieving parents blocked the road into a flattened town Thursday as police sought to quell a rising wave of public anger over schools that collapsed in an earthquake a month ago and killed thousands of children.
    Volunteers were detained, schools were cordoned off, and reporters were barred from the premises in at least two other towns in a sign of the government’s resolve in controlling the media and potential unrest.
    Despite assurances by authorities that unfettered coverage would be allowed, dozens of police and paramilitary troops guarded the gate of Juyuan’s destroyed middle school as a crowd of about 50 gathered outside. Outside a primary school in Dujiangyan, police and soldiers also stood guard to keep out parents and journalists.
    The security measures underscore how much the public fury over the deaths of so many children is unnerving Chinese authorities. Their attempts to rein it in contrast sharply with the relative openness Olympics-conscious Beijing displayed at the start of the disaster.
    Across the quake zone, tempers flared among parents as they marked the one-month anniversary of the May 12 quake.
    ‘‘We’re dispirited. Our children have been dead for a month,’’ said Wang Ping, whose 16-year-old daughter was killed when Beichuan Middle School collapsed. ‘‘I’m 40. All our hopes were in our children. Now they’re dead. Our future is dead, too.’’
    About five miles south of Beichuan, more than 200 parents blocked the valley’s sole road, angry because a memorial plaque to dead students had been smashed overnight — and that local officials did not seem to care who was to blame.
    The plaque, a shiny polished black stone with gold letters that read ‘‘Beichuan May 12 Memorial to Middle School Teachers and Students’’ had been erected on a hillside near the school in a small ceremony on Monday.
    On Thursday, it was in pieces, and parents were demanding to know why authorities were not investigating the matter. They also wanted to know why the school had crumbled so easily. Police stood calmly by as almost 250 parents — some shouting in protest — clogged the road, holding up long lines of traffic in both directions for hours.
    ‘‘We just want answers from our local leaders,’’ Fan Xiaorong, whose 18-year-old daughter died, said as tears welled up in her eyes.
    Earlier in the day, most had stood before the ruins of the school, placing sticks of incense, fruit and flowers on the edge of a sea of concrete rubble. Some burned clothes and shoes of dead students, a traditional expression of mourning.
    In the end, Beichuan county officials wrote down the concerns of demonstrators and said they would consider them. Most of the crowd dispersed peacefully after dark.
    Late Wednesday, dozens of armed police rounded up more than 20 quake aid volunteers who had been planning a memorial service Thursday for students killed at Beichuan Middle School, said Chen Yan, 36, a volunteer from Chengdu. He said the volunteers were taken to a police station in the town of Wenchang.
    Chen, who said he heard about the roundup from witnesses and other volunteers, went to the station to demand the release of the volunteers.
    The police ‘‘told me that the volunteers were trying to organize memorial activities on the day of June 12,’’ he said. ‘‘I told them they had no right to keep them because they did not disturb the social order and they were not the members of illegal organizations, and the memorial activities were not illegal.’’
    On Thursday, officials at the Wenchang police branch and the Zitong County public security bureau denied that any volunteers had been detained by police.
    One month after the magnitude-7.9 quake killed nearly 70,000 and left an estimated 5 million homeless in central China, Beijing is trying to switch the emphasis from the destruction to the rebuilding effort, focusing on tales of heroism in the rescue efforts.
    A nationally televised event Wednesday, organized by the Communist Party’s propaganda department, showcased the success of China’s massive aid effort.
    In the first days after the quake, China’s typically harsh media restrictions were relaxed, allowing both domestic and foreign reporters unusual freedom in covering the disaster. But in recent weeks, the government has begun clamping down on press liberties as hard questions have continued about corruption and shoddy construction of schools.
    A reporter from Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper said she was forced by police to leave the town of Juyuan and return to the provincial capital of Chengdu, about an hour away. Agence France Presse reported that two of its staffers were among at least six foreign reporters held by police when they tried to report at collapsed schools Thursday.
    A day earlier, a senior Chinese official had assured journalists that access to the quake zone would continue while acknowledging that some foreign journalists reported difficulties accessing the quake area.
    ‘‘We will do our best to help them,’’ said Wang Guoqing, deputy director of the State Council’s Information Office. ‘‘Our open policy remains unchanged. Overseas reporters are welcome to the quake-hit areas.’’
    However, Wang said police had cordoned off some areas ‘‘to avoid further disturbing residents’ lives,’’ adding that the measures were not designed to ban reporters.
    Some 7,000 classrooms collapsed in the quake, many in areas where no other buildings were badly affected. Parents and some engineers who surveyed the wreckage pointed to poor design, a lack of steel reinforcement bars in the concrete, and the use of other substandard building materials.
    In Dujiangyan, police and troops barred parents from entering the ruined Xinjian elementary school.
    One family knelt on the sidewalk in front, burning incense and pouring soda into cups as an offering to the dead. They declined to speak to a foreign journalist who slipped past road blocks.
    Jing Linzhong, the father of a killed child, said he arrived in the morning, before security forces sealed the area off, to join other parents in a vigil on the school’s playground. Jing said blocking parents from visiting the site could impede the healing process.
    ‘‘It’s unfair,’’ said Jing, seated with three other parents on the playground, surrounded by debris adorned with white funeral wreaths. ‘‘Some people are getting psychological counseling, but for us, we find it therapeutic simply to gather at the school and meet with each other. We have a lot in common.’’
    Parents reached in the village of Wufu, where 270 children died in a collapsed primary school, said they were holding off on any commemorations or protests until the release of investigation results promised on or around June 20. The results may open the way for lawsuits or trials against officials and private contractors involved.
    ‘‘The only thing we are doing now is waiting until the 20th,’’ Li Caojun said in a telephone interview.
    Li and another Wufu parent, Ye Yaolin, said they hadn’t been threatened or intimidated, although the school site had been closed off by police. Other parents said they had been visited by police and believed their phones were being tapped.
    In the traditional Chinese mourning cycle, the one-month anniversary of a death is less important than the fifth week, and some parents said they were considering holding ceremonies on June 15 — the 35th day after the quake.
    Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Dujiangyan contributed to this report.

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