Sichuan tightens security to prevent relatives protesting

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2009, 12:00am

The authorities in Sichuan have tightened security across quake-ravaged areas ahead of a series of official events marking the first anniversary of the disaster today.

The increased security comes amid reports of planned protests by parents who lost their children.

Yingxiu , the epicentre of the May 12 earthquake, has been cordoned off ahead of an official memorial ceremony today, with the only expressway leading to the town closed for the past few days.

President Hu Jintao and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang are expected to attend the ceremony along with other mainland leaders and foreign diplomats.

The ceremony at Yingxiu, which was almost flattened during the magnitude 8 quake last year, would be broadcast live on state television and major news portals this afternoon, Xinhua said.

The announcement came after days of rampant speculation about the main site of the official memorial events. The ruins of Beichuan Middle School, where more than 1,400 students were killed, and its new site in neighbouring An county had both been rumoured to be the possible site of the main event.

But the South China Morning Post has reported that dozens of parents in Beichuan and Dujiangyan, whose children were killed due to poorly constructed schools, planned to stage a hunger strike and sit-in today after Beijing's denial of the existence of poorly constructed 'tofu buildings'.

Several parents said that police had followed them closely in the past few days and warned of possible reprisals if they insisted on going ahead with their protests.

Sources said Mr Hu made a surprise visit to the site of Beichuan's new middle school yesterday, where a ground-breaking ceremony for the 200 million yuan (HK$228 million) project would be held this afternoon.

But the visit was briefly disrupted when parents tried to protest at the scene. They were removed immediately. Many people in quake-hit areas, especially those in remote, mountainous regions, have expressed disappointment about the government's aid and reconstruction efforts.

Wang Jinqin from Shuanglin village in Shifang said her life had been devastated but she had received little help from the authorities. Her husband was killed when their home at the foot of Longmen Mountain, where a major fault line is located, collapsed during the quake.

'Like most families here, my husband used to support the whole family by working at a nearby coal mine,' she said.

Like hundreds of thousands of people who lost loved ones in the quake, Mrs Wang, 44, planned to visit the tomb of her husband today along with their two daughters.

'We have prepared paper flowers, incense and a bottle of rice wine and we want to tell him how much we miss him,' she said.