- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

DUJIANGYAN, China | Police dragged away more than 100 parents Tuesday while they were protesting the deaths of their children in poorly constructed schools that collapsed in May’s earthquake.

The parents, many holding pictures of their children, were pulled down the street away from a courthouse in Dujiangyan, a resort city northwest of the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu.

“Why?” some of them yelled. “Tell us something,” they said as black-suited police wearing riot helmets pulled at them.

The parents had been kneeling in front of the courthouse yelling, “We want to sue.” Their children attended a high school in Juyuan, near Dujiangyan, where 270 students died.

The Southern Metropolis News quoted a rescuer as saying that rubble from the school showed that no steel reinforcing bars had been used in construction, only iron wire.

The government says the May 12 earthquake destroyed 7,000 classrooms. Many parents have accused contractors of cutting corners when building the classrooms, resulting in schools that could not withstand the 7.9-magnitude quake. Pictures of collapsed schools surrounded by buildings still standing have fueled anger.

An Associated Press reporter and two photographers covering the protest were dragged by the arms up the steps into the courthouse by police trying to prevent them from seeing the demonstration. They were held inside, along with two Japanese reporters, and questioned for a half-hour before being let go, after the protesters had been moved away.

Asked why reporters were removed from the courthouse, an official from the foreign affairs office of the local government, Zao Ming, said “this is not a good place to do interviews. … In a disaster like this, there will be a lot of opinions. The government will solve their problems.”

There were several Japanese reporters at the courthouse. One witness said the police told the parents “the Japanese are reporting bad things about you.” The witness asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals by authorities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Tuesday that the government had been unusually open about allowing journalists to report on the earthquake and its aftermath. He told a press conference in Beijing that the “principle of transparency and openness remains unchanged.”

The confirmed death toll for China’s worst disaster in three decades was raised Tuesday to 69,107, an increase of about 90 people from a day earlier, and 18,230 people are still missing, the State Council said. The quake also left 5 million people homeless.

Meanwhile, the official Xinhua news agency said that authorities have delayed for two days an attempt to divert water from a huge lake formed when the quake sent landslides tumbling into a river in Beichuan in northern Sichuan.

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