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China: Rival Owner Confesses to Food Poisoning - 2002-09-18

China says the owner of a snack shop has confessed to putting rat poison in his rival's breakfast food last Saturday killing 38 people and sickening hundreds more.

The official Xinhua News Agency says police arrested Chen Zhengping on Sunday aboard a train several hundred kilometers from the eastern Chinese city, Nanjing, where the mass poisoning took place. Chinese state television says Mr. Chen, the owner of a rival snack store, confessed to spreading the rat poison out of what it called resentment over a business dispute.

Hundreds of customers at the Heshengyuan Soy Milk store near Nanjing fell unconscious, some bleeding at the mouth and ears, after eating sesame cakes and rice there Saturday morning.

Television broadcasts Tuesday night showed scenes of Communist Party officials visiting victims of the poisonings at hospitals in Nanjing.

Hui Liangyu, the Jiangsu provincial Communist Party chief, tells a patient that China's leaders are extremely concerned about the health of those who were poisoned. Mr. Hui says government officials are working with doctors and the military to investigate the case thoroughly.

Chinese authorities did not release an official death toll until Tuesday night, when Xinhua News Agency reported 38 people were killed and 200 sickened. But there are still conflicting accounts over how many were poisoned.

The China Daily newspaper says Wednesday that more than 400 people are receiving treatment in hospitals - most of them middle school students and construction workers. It quotes a doctor as saying that some of those patients may not survive and those that do could suffer from permanent paralysis or brain damage.

The newspaper says the Jiangsu Province hygiene department has ordered a ban on food stations and caterers using deadly chemicals to kill rats or insects.

Food poisoning in China sickened thousands of people last year, with many cases caused by industrial chemicals, bacteria or rat poison.