Talk of cover-up of deaths in stabbing sparks protest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am

Angry parents protested outside Taixing People's Hospital yesterday after rumours that the city government may have covered up the deaths of children stabbed in a gruesome kindergarten attack on Thursday. Meanwhile, the nation reeled from two more school attacks elsewhere.

Witnesses said several thousand people gathered in a square outside the hospital in Taixing , Jiangsu, in the afternoon. The city is 2 1/2 hours' drive from Shanghai.

Shanghai and its neighbouring provinces are on high security alert, anxious to make sure there are no security threats during the six-month World Expo that opened last night.

One witness said a couple began protesting yesterday afternoon after they were not allowed to see their child, one of the 29 children stabbed in the attack, despite being asked to sign a form allowing the hospital to operate on the child.

A crowd began to gather, with parents and other Taixing residents saying they were concerned that the authorities might have covered up the deaths of some victims to avoid stirring up a 'mass incident'.

A television screen at the hospital and a local television station repeatedly put out notices asking residents 'not to believe in rumours' and that 'none of the 29 children or three adults injured have died', according to the witnesses and internet postings by residents.

The witness said the protesters chanted slogans and held signs saying they wanted 'the truth and the children'. They did not clash with police, who were stationed around the square to monitor the protest.

Some photographs posted online showed protesters holding small white boards with characters saying, 'Baby, come home!'

Police and the hospital declined to comment last night. A statement posted on the Taixing government's website said all 32 victims were alive.

Staff at schools and kindergartens have now begun arming themselves after two more violent attacks on schoolchildren - the fourth and fifth in just over a month.

A 45-year-old villager from Shangzhuang in Weifang, Shandong province, wounded five primary school pupils with a hammer yesterday morning before grabbing two children and setting fire to himself.

Teachers managed to save the two children but the attacker, Wang Yonglai, died. Xinhua reported that injuries suffered by the five children were not life threatening.

On Thursday night, China News Service reported that an attack had taken place in Kunming , Yunnan province .

State media had widely reported the Taixing attack, also on Thursday morning, but the Kunming case was only revealed at a police briefing on Thursday night. The police said Yan Xingfu , 43, slashed his nephew, a grade six student, with a knife because of a disagreement with his wife's family.

The spate of attacks has sparked widespread public concern, and schools across the mainland are equipping guards with crowd-control poles, pepper spray and other defensive weapons.

The Beijing News reported that the Public Security Bureau and Education Committee in Beijing's Xicheng district had prepared almost 200 crowd-control poles for use in the district's kindergartens and schools. It said district authorities had been aware of the use of such security equipment in Japanese schools for four years and had ordered steel crowd-control poles after an incident on March 23.

Police also said that all surveillance cameras at the entrances to district schools would be connected to the police bureau before June 1, International Children's Day, so that officers could monitor security.

'We have immediately hired security guards and they will start work on Monday,' a guard at the entrance to Hongmiao Primary School said. 'We also bought four police forks - each two metres long - two days ago to arm the guards. Police and teachers have taught us how to use them.'

In Nanjing, Jiangsu, 70 security guards armed with batons and pepper spray will be on duty at state-owned kindergartens and schools in the Gulou district from today. The extra security will cost 1.4 million yuan (HK$1.59 million) a year, China News Service reported.

Staff at mainland media outlets said propaganda authorities had banned all media, including websites, from reporting or commenting on school attacks.

A notice sent to media outlets said that to prevent public panic or imitation by extremists, all links to previous reports about the March 23 attack in Nanping and another in Leizhou , Guangdong, on Wednesday should be deleted.

By late yesterday afternoon, links to reports about the Shandong attack had also disappeared from major news websites.

A statement posted on the Ministry of Education's website yesterday urged all schools and education departments to prevent unidentified people from entering campuses. It said they should work closely with police to tighten school security.