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China's citizen petitioners find cold reception in Beijing

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Instead, officials chose to simply wear them down. Perhaps their distress provoked sympathy: they say that their children became crippled after taking polio vaccine or brain-damaged after meningitis vaccine in what appeared to be catastrophic malfunctions of government health drives.

Some have been denied any compensation at all, and have been impoverished by the costs of caring for and treating their children; others complain that the money they had been given was insufficient; yet others say they simply want justice.

"I want the government to punish the official who caused this," said Wang Mingliang, whose 9-month-old daughter died last year after a meningitis vaccination and who claims to have evidence the vaccine was improperly stored.

Almost all the parents seeking redress have secured medical opinions from local hospitals tying their children's death or illness to the vaccinations.

Organizing over IM

Quietly, for a month or so, the parents used Instant Messaging to plan their action in the capital, they explained. Yu, a serial petitioner, says suspicious local officials offered him 6,000 RMB ($830) in what they called a "stability maintenance fee" to remain under house arrest until the end of the 60th anniversary festivities.

Instead, he gave police the slip, he says, and took a roundabout railroad journey to Beijing. Using a precaution familiar among petitioners, he removed the battery from his cellphone so that the police would not be able to track him using GPS.

Once in the capital, he joined other protesters at a clandestine hotel, where nobody asked to register his ID card.

The parents, some cradling their crippled children, first sought an audience at the Health Ministry on Tuesday afternoon. A junior employee met them on the sidewalk and took their personal details before disappearing back into the ministry.

Those details, it seems, were quickly communicated to the protesters' local governments. The next morning, when they returned to the ministry, several of them saw familiar faces among the onlookers – policemen, local Communist party secretaries, county-level petition office bureaucrats, and other officials from their home towns.

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