| BEICHUAN, China
BEICHUAN, China Anguished parents on Thursday
marked one month since China's devastating earthquake,
demanding answers about flattened schools and begging
forgiveness from dead children buried under the rubble.
In a sign of political tensions in the quake-hit area,
police expelled volunteers and apparently detained a local
dissident who had offered to support the grieving families.
Two dozen parents gathered around concrete shards and
twisted steel at what was a Beichuan school, one of many
toppled by the quake even as government offices and homes
nearby stayed upright. Poor construction work is suspected as a
reason for the collapse of the schools.
A mother burned incense, ceremonial funeral money and a
pile of her late daughter's clothes on the rubble mound, while
other parents wailed apologies at children crushed under the
"Your mother is so sorry for this," cried the middle-aged
mother of one girl, Chen Ya. "No. It was me. I'm so sorry,"
said Chen's grandmother.
The parents' laments jarred with government efforts to pass
the one-month date without major ceremony, focusing instead on
rebuilding and messages of determined patriotic unity.
Few families in hard-hit parts of Sichuan province in the
nation's southwest escaped losses among those killed in the May
12 quake -- close to 70,000 according to the latest count, with
many thousands missing and likely dead.
But the thousands of crushed children have become the most
politically charged legacy of the disaster, distilling public
anger about corruption and lax regulation blamed for shoddy
"They said this building was strong and quake-proof, but
when we saw it, the concrete was like talcum powder and the
steel was as thin as noodles," said Mu Qibing, whose
17-year-old son was killed along with some 1,200 other pupils.
Police later moved in to heavily restrict access to the
area but did not clash with a crowd of parents, locals said.
In the night, the parents met local officials who heard
their demands for an inquiry into the collapsed building and
complaints about a memorial plaque the parents said police had
pulled down a day after they put in on a nearby hillside.
"We want justice for the children who perished," said one
of them, Chen Yanhuai, a father whose son died in the school.
"We don't understand why they treat us like the criminals when
we are the victims."
The ruins of another school at Juyuan were also guarded by
dozens of police, and the town 50 km (30 miles) from the
province capital, Chengdu, was blocked by checkpoints.
A planned memorial by parents of hundreds of children who
died there was prevented by police who went door to door
warning them to stay away, several parents said.
At a flattened school in Wufu, where 270 children died,
about 80 parents held a brief memorial ceremony, some of them
"We gathered to remember our children and to pressure the
government for answers," said one of those parents, Shang Jun,
whose son, Shang Xingping, died in the quake.
DETENTIONS AND EXPULSIONS
China has been seeking to present an image of determined
patriotic stability in the face of the disaster. And in a sign
of the political tensions around the grieving parents,
authorities detained a Sichuan dissident, according to people
close to him.
Huang Qi, who lives in Chengdu and runs a Web site critical
of the ruling Communist Party's restrictions on political
rights, was bundled into a car on Tuesday night, said a local
lawyer who only gave her surname, Xu, citing friends who were
"We believe Huang Qi was detained by state security in part
for offering support and publicity for the families of the
children who perished and other victims," Zhang Guoting, a
supporter of Huang who lives in Copenhagen, said by telephone.
Calls to the Sichuan police headquarters late on Thursday
were not answered. Huang was previously jailed on political
About 20 volunteers offering to help the grieving families
in Beichuan were expelled from there on Thursday, and one said
police feared they would "stir up trouble."
"We came to offer non-political help, purely to help the
disaster victims," said one of the volunteers, Chen Dapeng, a
Beijing-based author. "But police told us to leave because they
fear outsiders could stir up incidents around the memorial
(Editing by Caroline Drees)