- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - Design blueprints of a school in southwest China that collapsed in last year’s massive earthquake prove that the building wasn’t reinforced as planned, parents of dead students said Thursday.

The accusation goes to the heart of a continuing battle between parents and officials in Sichuan, where the May 12 quake razed large swaths of the mountainous province and left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing.

Almost a year after the disaster, discontent still runs strong among the fathers and mothers of the children who were killed when some 7,000 classrooms folded while other nearby buildings remained standing. They blame shoddy construction and official corruption.

But while the government has promised an investigation and punishment for those responsible, there have been no public attempts to hold anyone to account. Officials have repeatedly refused to release a full tally of student deaths.

“Our main goal is to question the quality problems of the school and get justice,” said Xu Changyun, a 39-year-old construction worker whose son was crushed when Beichuan Middle School _ one of the most devastated in the quake _ crumbled.

Comparisons between blueprints for the school and reinforced concrete exposed in the wreckage showed steel bars far thinner than originally planned, Xu said.

Xu and another parent, Wei Yongqiang, also said steel, cement and bricks intended for the school’s construction were sold onward by unscrupulous contractors. Xu said he knew people who had bought the materials, but declined to give their names, saying most had been intimidated by authorities into not talking.

“We want a full investigation,” said Wei, a restaurant worker.

A woman at the Beichuan county government office said the official authorized to talk to the media was not available. Telephones rang unanswered at the Sichuan provincial government office.

Marches and sit-ins by grieving parents held within months of the quake were broken up by police, with some parents briefly detained. Many have also been subjected to intimidation and financial inducements to silence them.

Even possession of school blueprints can bring trouble.

Xu said local police last year confiscated blueprints from Beichuan parents and warned them not to visit the courts.

One parent whose two daughters died at Beichuan, Mu Yongxian, was detained in November for having a copy and accused of illegally possessing state secrets, said the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

And earlier this month, three people who presented the school construction blueprint to delegates at the country’s annual legislative session were also later summoned by Sichuan state security authorities and accused of violating state secrets, the center said in a statement faxed Wednesday to journalists.

Wei Hong, executive vice governor of Sichuan, told reporters at the legislative session that the strength of the earthquake _ “one or two degrees” higher than the buildings were designed to withstand _ was the main reason so many schools collapsed.

Wei said the conclusion was made after an investigation by engineering experts from Tsinghua University and official experts from Sichuan.

In September, a Chinese scientist heading a team of experts tasked with investigating the quake said a rush to build schools in recent years likely led to construction flaws that caused so many of them to fold.

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