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China Rejects Concerns About School Construction

Chinese officials have rejected allegations that schools toppled by the Sichuan earthquake were poorly constructed. The government is mobilizing police to maintain order in Sichuan after hundreds of parents who lost children in the quake held protests. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

By some estimates, more than six thousand students died when the earthquake hit Sichuan province on May 12, collapsing their schools on top of them. The quake killed more than 69 thousand people and about 18,000 more are still missing.

Chinese authorities have promised to investigate the construction quality of every school in the quake zone. Some officials, however, already are saying construction quality was not a problem.

The vice minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Qi Ji, told journalists Thursday that schools in the quake zone were not poorly constructed.

Qi said as a person who studied structures, he could not agree with critics who say the schools collapsed easier than other buildings.

He says in the affected areas it was not only the schools that collapsed, but also residential buildings. Nonetheless, he says China's cabinet, the State Council, has said the quake-proof standard of construction for schools, hospitals, stores, and other public buildings needs to be improved.

Hundreds of bereaved parents have demonstrated this week in Sichuan, accusing officials of corruption and allowing shoddy materials to be used to build schools. Police broke up the demonstrations and detained some of the parents.

Police are blocking access to many collapsed schools, turning away parents and journalists.

China's population policy limits most couples to only one child, so many parents lost their only offspring in the quake.

The official China Daily newspaper says a special team has been formed to help parents of students killed in the quake. The newspaper did not say how the team would help.