Nation to honour Qinghai victims today

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am

China will observe a national mourning today for victims of the devastating earthquake that hit Qinghai a week ago.

According to the State Council, national flags will fly at half-mast across the country and in Chinese embassies all over the world. All public entertainment will be halted. In Qinghai, local people will pay a three-minute silent tribute starting at 10am.

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will lead a one-minute silent tribute at government headquarters.

The announcements came as the government death toll reached 2,064, a toll the media has doubted. Government figures say 193 were still missing and 12,135 were injured.

Guo Weimin , director of the news department under the State Council Information Office, said yesterday the release of information for the quake was timely, open and transparent. 'We have been open for media interviews, so it's impossible and unnecessary for us to hide the number of deaths,' he said in Beijing.

The Ministry of Finance announced that it would set aside another 300 million yuan (HK$340.6 million) for quake relief in addition to the 200 million yuan earmarked last week, Xinhua reported.

The fund would support relief efforts, including evacuations, resettlement, medical care, disease prevention, infrastructure repair and the re-opening of schools, the ministry said on it website.

In response to reports about chaos in Jiegu own, Wen Zhixiong, deputy director of the logistics department under the People's Armed Police Force, said the quake zone was in good order and there was no scrambling for relief materials. He said more than 1,000 soldiers were sent to guard service stations, banks, water plants and power plants.

Unlike two years ago, when a three-day national mourning period for victims of the Sichuan earthquake stirred national unity and pride, the latest announcement sparked public debate on the connotations of such large-scale activities.

Many people saw it as an attempt to shift public attention from tougher social issues - from sky-high property prices to violent eviction of those whose homes are to be demolished.

'No political show is needed when it comes to people's livelihoods; no representative is needed when it comes to democracy; no harmony is needed in the case of civil rights,' an IT engineer in Beijing said.

A Shenzhen cinema manager added: 'The intention was good, but to force all entertainment businesses to suspend services through administrative orders is questionable. We will bear big losses because of a whole day's closure.'

In Beijing, cinemas and major karaoke bars will be closed, with many tickets sold in advance being reimbursed. The same was true with cinemas in Shanghai and Hangzhou , Zhejiang . In Henan , all cinemas, internet cafes, game bars and karaoke bars were closed from midnight until midnight tonight. Television channels have adjusted their programming.

Despite the effect the mourning could have on the entertainment industry, some still believed it was necessary and showed social progress.

'I think this is a good thing. It shows the government's respect for life,' said Yu Wentao , a veteran media worker in Beijing.

At 64, Yu said he could remember only four national mourning periods observed, counting today's. The previous three were for the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong , and for the Sichuan quake.

It shows that nationwide respect is being paid not only to top leaders, but also to normal people, he said. 'This is actually progress.'

During the mourning for the quake victims two years ago, members of the CPC Political Bureau paid a three-minute silent tribute to the dead. Vice-premier Li Keqiang flew to the epicentre to join the mass mourning.