Police Stop Grieving Parents' Protest in China

On Friday, parents of children killed after schools collapsed in China were angrily planning lawsuits against the government for shoddy construction. On Tuesday, the parents were dragged from the courthouse by police, and reporters were detained inside.

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

There is news today of a clash between grieving parents in China's Sichuan province and the Chinese police. Police surrounded more than 100 parents, dragging some away from a courthouse in Dujiangyan, a city that was devastated by last month's earthquake. The parents were protesting what they say was poor construction at a middle school that collapsed, killing hundreds of children. It's a school that I first visited on the night of the earthquake on May 12th.

NPR's Rob Gifford has been back to the school twice in the last week. I spoke with him earlier today about the scene at the courthouse.

ROB GIFFORD: What happened was these parents - parents of those killed - went and knelt down on the steps of the courthouse. This has been brewing for some time, as you saw, Melissa, right at the very beginning, and as I saw last week - very angry parents, angry with the construction of the school, what they say is the shoddy construction of the school, and feeling that they're getting no recourse from the government. They're not getting any kind of response - any kind of responsibility taken by anyone. They took it to the courthouse today, and they stepped over the line and were taken away by the police.

BLOCK: Rob, there were, of course, many, many schools that collapsed, and we've seen protests like this all over Sichuan now, grieving parents demanding recourse. And up until now, it seems, local authorities have allowed those protests to go on. Do you think this crackdown today signals the start of something, that the government is saying this is getting out of control, we've got to put a stop to this?

GIFFORD: I think there definitely is a line in the sand, and I think that we've seen the Chinese government. It has been praised for the way it has handled this earthquake, that it has been much more open than many people expected. It has allowed some forms of protest. It's allowed Western journalist like you and me to come in here and to witness a lot of things we might not have expected to see. But the bottom line for the Chinese government is stability; the bottom line is that they won't allow things to go too far. So I think that they are just making that clear, and I think that will be made clear to any other groups who are thinking of doing it.

BLOCK: You know, Rob, when I went back to the school in the town of Juyuan a few days later after the earthquake, we were told that there were children still missing, still buried in the rubble. But there was no sign of any recovery operation going on at all; it had stopped. Is that still the case, that there are still children missing that haven't been recovered?

GIFFORD: Well, that's interesting, Melissa, because I was back there on Friday, and it looked as though nothing had happened, actually, since you were there. And I met some parents who had still not recovered the bodies of their children, and they were extremely upset about that. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were the ones who were protesting today on the steps of the courthouse. But what's happened today, according to some of the people I spoke to in the area this evening, is that they've sent in another team of the army who with back hoes and all sorts of equipment, have cleared another large amount of debris. And I saw the pile, the new pile of debris. And these people said that two or three more bodies were found today, were recovered from the rubble.

BLOCK: More than three weeks after the earthquake?

GIFFORD: That's right. So the Chinese government, you know, it has been praised for some of the ways in which it has handled this earthquake, but there is also some criticism on the ground for issues like this. Why did they not carry on at the time? Why did they not carry on until every student had been found?

BLOCK: NPR's Rob Gifford speaking with us from Chengdu, China.

Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thanks very much indeed, Melissa.

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