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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
"Distraught relatives said the government's version was simply a lie"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 March, 2001, 09:12 GMT
Beijing accused of school blast cover-up
Official visiting survivor of school blast
Jiangxi governor Shu Shengyou visited survivors in hospital
The families of children killed in a school blast in southern China are accusing the Chinese Government of trying to cover up the tragedy by blaming it on a lone madman.

He transported these fireworks and materials to the ground floor. He lit them and he blew himself up

Chinese premier
Premier Zhu Rongji said on Thursday that the explosion had been caused by a man with a grudge against society.

But villagers told the BBC that this was not true and that the children were being forced to assemble dangerous fireworks inside the school.

Tuesday's explosion in the village of Fanglin, Jiangxi province, killed 38 children.

And BBC Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that the government appears to be moving to stifle reports of the explosion on the internet.

An official at the website told the French news agency AFP that it had erased hundreds of messages from its chat rooms which expressed outrage about the explosion.

'Deranged man'

Local residents held angry protests in the village on Thursday.

Zhu Rongji
Zhu Rongji: "Madman to blame"
But speaking in Beijing, Premier Zhu flatly denied claims of illegal practices in the school, insisting that the blast was the work of a deranged man, Li Chuicai.

"His wife divorced him, so he was alone and single and he transported these fireworks and materials to the ground floor. He lit them and he blew himself up," he said.

But a work colleague of Mr Li's at a local firework factory told the BBC that he had no mental problems.

And Zhang Minggeng, a local man who lost a son and a daughter in the explosion, insisted that children as young as eight were forced to work making firecrackers during their lunch breaks.


"My son told me his teacher forced him to kneel on the ground to punish him when he refused to make firecrackers," he said.

Rescues effort
Forty-two people were killed in the blast
The parents allege that that the local education authorities were in league with Communist Party officials, using the school for commercial profit.

The school was packed with about 200 pupils and teachers when the blast occurred. Four adults were also killed.

One local resident told the BBC that 2,000 people had converged on the village to take part in the protest.

Security cordon

A tight security cordon has since been placed on the area with foreign reporters being detained at roadblocks, but there are no reports of violence as yet.

The residents of Fanglin are demanding that those responsible for the explosion are brought to justice and that adequate compensation is provided for the families of the dead.

The United Nations Children's Fund said it was outraged at the alleged activities of school officials.

China just last month ratified the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which sets standards for labour and education.

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See also:

07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger of 'firework school' parents
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rising child labour in China
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Victims 'were making firecrackers'
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