By Chris Buckley
BEICHUAN, China, June 12 Anguished parents on Thursday marked one month since China's devastating earthquake, demanding answers about flattened schools and begging forgiveness from dead children buried under the rubble.
Two dozen parents gathered around a mound of concrete shards and twisted steel at what was a Beichuan school, one of many toppled by the quake even as government offices and homes nearby stayed upright.
A mother burned incense, ceremonial funeral money and a pile of her late daughter's clothes on the rubble, while other parents wailed apologies at children crushed under the ruins.
"Your mother is so sorry for this," cried the middle-aged mother of one girl, Chen Ya. "No. It was me. I'm so sorry," said Chen's grandmother.
The parents' laments jarred with government efforts to pass the one-month date without major ceremony, focusing instead on rebuilding and messages of determined patriotic unity.
Few families in hard-hit parts of Sichuan province in the nation's southwest escaped losses among those killed in the May 12 quake -- close to 70,000 according to the latest count, with many thousands missing and likely dead.
Beichuan, a valley town with 30,000 residents, has been abandoned, never to be rebuilt, with many dead entombed in its rubble.
The thousands of crushed children have become the most politically charged legacy of the disaster, distilling public anger about corruption and lax regulation blamed for shoddy school buildings.
"They said this building was strong and quake-proof, but when we saw it, the concrete was like talcum powder and the steel was as thin as noodles," said Mu Qibing, whose 17-year-old son was killed along with some 1,200 other pupils.
The ruins of another school at Juyuan were guarded by dozens of police, and the town 50 km (30 miles) from the province capital, Chengdu, blocked by checkpoints barring foreign reporters.
A planned memorial by parents of hundreds of children who died there was blocked by police who went door to door warning them to stay away, several parents said.
"All we want to do is remember them this day," Zhao Deqin, a mother whose 15-year-old twin daughters, Yajia and Yaqi, died.
At a flattened school in Wufu, where hundreds of children also died, about 80 parents held a brief memorial ceremony in the rain, some of them said by telephone.
"We gathered to remember our children and to pressure the government for answers," said one of those parents, Shang Jun, whose son Shang Xingping died in the quake.
"We don't want compensation. We want to see the corrupt officials who let this happen pay for their crimes."
For other residents of this lush region of rice paddies and bamboo thickets, the one-month date began as just another day in what will be a long struggle to cope with sweltering, crowded tent camps and worries over jobs and education.
The government's response to the quake, with a sweeping relief operation and storm of patriotic propaganda, has so far won widespread public support. But as the vast rebuilding phase begins, the government is sure to be tested by victims' impatience for new lives.
Homeless residents face a sweltering summer in tented camps, lining up for food, clothes and whatever arrives on aid trucks. Soon, many will move into thousands of pre-fabricated huts rising quickly across the region.
In this poor farm country, where education is prized as an escape to prosperity, displaced parents said they worried about the disruption to surviving children's schooling.
Confinement to quake camps has also cut many people off from farms, jobs and business. And for many, day-to-day hardships have, for now, overshadowed mourning. (Editing by Nick Macfie)