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China Quake Death Toll Rises


The death toll from an earthquake that struck western China earlier this week stands now at 1,339 people.

Tibetan Buddhist monks early Saturday lifted hundreds of bodies of those killed in the earthquake into trucks and cars to take them for cremation in the foothills of Yushu, in western China's Qinghai province. Monks told reporters it is a Tibetan tradition to have a funeral for the dead within three days.

The area, high on the Tibetan plateau, was struck by a massive quake Wednesday.

Rescue efforts are still underway in the affected area.

Chinese television is bringing the relatively remote disaster zone area into living rooms across the country, with stories of heroic rescues and military convoys bringing relief supplies to survivors.

Authorities also are concerned about other things, such as providing clean drinking water and proper disposal of waste and hazardous materials.

The disaster has attracted attention at the highest levels of the country, with President Hu Jintao cutting short his trip to South America and Premier Wen Jiabao immediately visiting the stricken area.

At a news conference in Beijing Saturday, Gao Hongfeng, the Assistant Minister for Transportation, acknowledged some continuing challenges.

Gao says rescue workers are facing tough conditions - such as altitude sickness, bad weather conditions and poor living conditions.

But he added that he was in the quake-stricken area for the first three days, and he felt that conditions there are, in his words, "improving day by day."

Chinese authorities said starting Saturday, only vehicles carrying casualties, the injured, rescuers and relief supplies will be allowed on main roads surrounding the town of Jiegu, which is near the quake's epicenter.

The Tibet government in exile says Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, would like to visit the areas hit by the quake, since most of the residents are largely ethnic Tibetan.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland. Talks between his representatives and Chinese authorities have yielded no results.

Meanwhile, Chinese media are reporting that the young man Beijing has designated to be the Panchen Lama donated nearly $15,000 (100,000 yuan) to quake relief efforts.

The Panchen Lama is often seen as the second highest-ranking Tibetan monk. In 1995, the Chinese Communist government rejected the boy the Dalai Lama had selected as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, and instead installed its own candidate.

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