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China's bereaved parents push for accountability

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When parents from Wufu staged a protest march over the children's deaths last week, a top party official in the nearby town of Mianzhu dropped to his knees before them, pleading with them not to take their complaints to his superiors. Ignoring him, they won an audience with the deputy vice mayor of Deyang, the regional seat of government.

"He promised they would investigate in a fair and open way," said Liu Yiguo, one of three representatives chosen by his fellow parents. "He said that, if it turns out this happened because of bad work by a government department, that department will have to take responsibility."

When a government expert came to the site last week to take samples from the ruins for examination, Mr. Liu said, "We checked that he took real samples from this school and that he sealed the bags. When they open the seals, we will be there, and we will check the whole process of inspection."

Some parents are dubious. "These local officials care about nothing but their position," complained Chen Yu, whose son died at Fuxin No.2. "They say the investigation will take a month. They just want to take as much time as possible."

It will take that long, claimed Zhang Qing, deputy head of a neighboring county government and a member of the investigating committee, "because we need to track back 20 years through the files to find out everything about this school's construction, the budget, and quality inspections."

"If need be, the people responsible will be arrested and sentenced," she added. "And if the parents are not satisfied with the results, we cannot rule out that they will file a lawsuit."

Ms. Zhang's regular presence at the site where the school stood, and where parents gather daily to grieve, appears to have contributed to the mood of relative calm in Wufu since last week's protest.

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