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The BBC's Bill Hayes
"The two storey building was smashed open by the force of the blast"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 15:25 GMT
Fireworks blamed for China school deaths
Destroyed school building
Four classrooms collapsed in the explosion
A massive explosion that demolished a Chinese primary school killing dozens of children was caused by fireworks, officials have confirmed.

Reports suggest the school was using pupils as young as eight years old to assemble fireworks to boost its income.


At least 37 children and four teachers were killed in the blast in a remote rural region in eastern China.

Some witnesses put the death toll at about 60. Nearly all the victims are believed to have been young children.

The school in Fang Lin village, Jiangxi province, was packed with about 300 pupils and teachers when the blast ripped through the two-storey building at 1110 (0310 GMT) on Tuesday, destroying four classrooms.

Fireworks blasts
August 2000: At least 21 killed in Jiangxi
June 2000: At least 36 killed in Guangdong
March 2000: 33 killed in Jiangxi
Witnesses and Chinese website reports said pupils at the school regularly assembled firecrackers for a local factory.

They said the explosion was caused by a faulty fuse.

Sources told the French AFP news agency that children as young as eight years old were forced to make fireworks at the school, 700km (440 miles) south-west of Shanghai.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights in China said the school, used the fireworks business to boost its income.

Income

Local officials say investigations are continuing, but one said criminal charges were likely to be brought against those involved.

Injured child in hospital
Children were dug from the wreckage and taken to hospital
The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai says Jiangxi is one of China's poorest provinces, and funding shortages have often prompted rural schools to seek alternative ways of generating income.

More than 30 people died in an explosion at a fireworks factory in the same province last year and similar accidents are believed to claim hundreds of lives each year.

Poverty

Military units have joined the rescue efforts and the provincial governor flew back from Beijing, where he was attending China's annual parliament session, to supervise the operation.

The extent of poverty in the region was emphasised when phone calls to the local fire brigade were met with a recorded message, saying the number had been disconnected because phone bills had not been paid.

Rescue work has been hampered by the remote location of the village - emergency personnel say their mobile phones do not work.

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See also:

05 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
China fireworks blast kills 21
02 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China closes fireworks factories
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger of 'firework school' parents
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rising child labour in China
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