- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BEIJING | A court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents of 58 children crushed to death when their school collapsed during a massive earthquake in May, the latest setback for the parents in their quest for an apology and compensation.

The dismissal of the case and reports of threats made against the parents underscore the political sensitivity of allegations that corruption and substandard construction caused thousands of classrooms to collapse in the 7.9-magnitude quake.

While the government has promised an investigation and strict punishment for bad construction, there has been no public attempt so far to hold anyone to account.

Marches and sit-ins by grieving parents held within months of the quake were shut down by police, with some parents briefly detained.

The lawsuit was filed a by a group of about 60 parents against school and local authorities in Sichuan province. It was registered at the Deyang People’s Intermediate Court, said a parent who would only give his surname, Sang, because he was afraid of official retaliation.

“If they did not build these shoddy buildings, our children would not have died,” said Mr. Sang, whose 11-year-old son was crushed to death when his classroom crumbled.

But a judge last week informed the plaintiffs that the court would not accept their case, Mr. Sang said.

Xu Peiguo, a Shanghai-based lawyer representing the parents, said 126 children were killed when the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in Mianzhu city collapsed during the May 12 quake. Parents of 58 of the deceased children joined the lawsuit seeking an official apology and compensation, he said.

Another parent who lost his 10-year-old daughter said many parents were planning to petition the Deyang government next but that they were under pressure to let the matter rest.

At the People’s Intermediate Court in Deyang, a woman surnamed Dai confirmed that a lawsuit had been filed against the town of Fuxin, the education department of Mianzhu, the school’s principal and the company that built the school.

Thousands of children are believed to have died in their classrooms during the quake, but there is no official toll. The government says 70,000 people died in Sichuan province and 7,000 classrooms were destroyed, but it has avoided releasing a detailed breakdown of the fatalities.

In September, a Chinese government scientist acknowledged that a rush to build schools in recent years likely led to construction flaws causing so many of them to collapse - the first official admission that low construction standards may have been behind the student deaths.

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