Explain this to our dead, relatives tell officials
There were chaotic scenes at Wenzhou South Railway Station yesterday as around 120 relatives of victims from Saturday's high-speed rail disaster protested in an increasingly desperate attempt to get government officials to heed their demands.
'Give us the truth, explain yourselves to the dead,' chanted the bereaved as they staged a sit-in in the centre of the station's departure hall.
Addressing a meeting of the State Council yesterday, Premier Wen Jiabao said he felt 'deep grief' over the incident and expressed his 'dearest sympathies' for the dead and wounded, China National Radio reported. He also promised an 'open, transparent' investigation to establish the facts of the accident and apportion responsibility.
The protesters marched on the station shortly after 9.30am, wearing black armbands and carrying photographs of some of the victims. Unfurling two long banners, they barred security channels at the entrance of the station for about an hour, preventing passengers from entering.
'Don't take the express train, it isn't safe,' they told confused travellers attempting to breach the picket line. The demonstration later moved to the station's upper level, where two station officials eventually agreed to meet the relatives.
Saturday's collision, the first fatal accident on the high-speed rail network since D-class express trains were launched in 2007, occurred when the D301 Beijing-Fuzhou train ran into the back of a stationary train, forcing four carriages over the edge of a 20-metre viaduct.
The incident has provoked intense public scrutiny of the high-speed rail project's rapid development and mounted pressure on the Ministry of Railways, already reeling from a series of corruption scandals.
The group of relatives, consisting of 18 families connected to more than 20 of the 39 dead, has grown increasingly militant over the last few days in the face of perceived bureaucratic indifference. One of the most vocal among them, widower Yang Feng, was conspicuous in his absence yesterday, prompting speculation he may have abandoned the fight. However, speaking to the South China Morning Post, he denied he had been 'harmonised' - a reference to the government's method of suppressing dissent.
'That is not true,' he said. 'I have not been directly pressured by the authorities to keep quiet, but there has been indirect pressure on my friends and family.'
Yang, 32, lost his pregnant wife, sister-in-law, four-year-old nephew and mother-in-law in the accident.
'At this present moment I need to focus on preparing the bodies for burial, and due to their injuries this is a lot of work. I also want to look after my father-in-law, who survived but is quite badly injured. The next few days will be quite quiet but I promise I am committed to this cause.'
Officials initially blamed the accident on lightning strikes that crippled the D3115 Hangzhou-Fuzhou train and damaged signalling equipment, but have since backtracked, stating that the cause remains under investigation. Although the Ministry of Railways has recovered the 'black box' recorders of both trains, no data has been released.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate has also sent a task force to Wenzhou to investigate the cause.
Some Christian relatives claim that local authorities have demanded their loved ones be cremated on site, and have refused requests for the bodies to be taken home for funeral rites.
The official casualty toll stood at 39 deaths and a further 178 injured people last night, with 116 still in hospital, 11 of them in a critical condition. Three bodies remain officially unidentified.