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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Rival blamed for China poisoning
Rescuers rush victim to hospital
Many of the victims collapsed, spitting blood
The Chinese authorities are reported to have arrested a shop owner who has confessed to poisoning a competitor's breakfast snacks, killing dozens of people.

State television said the man was so jealous of his rival's success that he put rat poison in its fried dough sticks, sesame cakes and stick rice balls.

Map of China showing Beijing and Tangshan

At least 38 people in the town of Tangshan, near Nanjing in Jiangsu province, are believed to be dead - many of them reportedly schoolchildren. Dozens of others fell sick.

Police are said to have arrested the shopkeeper, Cheng Zhengping, at Shangqiu, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north-west of Nanjing as he was attempting to flee by train.

The deaths in Tangshan began on Saturday morning, when hundreds of people collapsed after eating breakfast snacks such as dough sticks and rice balls from the tiny fast-food outlet, a branch of the Heshengyuan Soy Milk chain on Tangshan's main street.

Witnesses described how people began spitting blood and then collapsed after taking just a few mouthfuls of the snacks.

Sensitive timing

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing says that initial reports appeared to have been censored, with references to the number of casualties removed.

The Communist Party's major national congress is due to begin in just a few weeks and correspondents say the authorities are highly sensitive about any bad news ahead of it.

Correspondents say mass poisonings are not uncommon in China, and although most are due to negligence, some have been deliberate.

In August 2001, 120 people fell ill in a restaurant in Ningxiang, Hunan Province, after being poisoned by the owners of a noodle factory.

And there have been several cases of poisoning in schools in recent years.

Most recently, also in Hunan, 92 primary schoolchildren were stricken by poison in their lunch.

See also:

16 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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