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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Death sentence for China poisoning
Rescuers rush victim to hospital
Hundreds of people collapsed after eating snacks
A court in eastern China has sentenced to death the owner of a fast-food outlet for poisoning snacks at a competitor's shop, causing the death of dozens of people.

The poisoning - in the small town of Tangshan two weeks ago - made at least 300 customers seriously ill.

Map of China showing Beijing and Tangshan
Police say the defendant, Chen Zhenping, confessed to carrying out the poisonings out of jealousy.

Chen's own snack shop was not as successful as his competitor - so he used powerful rat poison to lace the food at his competitor's store.

He was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death following a trial lasting just three hours.

At least 38 people - many of them schoolchildren - died 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.

There were appalling scenes at the snack shop as people who ate the food there collapsed in violent convulsions.

Concerns

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing says the fact that so many people died, and that so many of them were children, made this an emotionally-charged case.

Hospital staff in Tangshan
Local hospitals were swamped by victims
But - our correspondent adds - in a country where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and confessions are regularly beaten out of suspects, there have to be serious concerns about the validity of any verdict.

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.

Last January, also in Hunan, 92 primary schoolchildren fell ill after their lunch was poisoned.

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The BBC's Rupert Wingfiled-Hayes
"The public reaction has been fairly positive"
See also:

17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
06 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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