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China detains quake school critic: rights group

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained a retired teacher on subversion charges after she decried the state of many schools buildings that toppled during last month’s devastating earthquake, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Wednesday.

A middle school in Yingxiu Township, the epicenter of the quake, lies in ruins, in Sichuan province May 24, 2008. REUTERS/UN Photo/Evan Schneider/Handout

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said police in southwest China’s Sichuan province detained Zeng Hongling for “inciting subversion” after she wrote essays arguing that corruption made a mockery of school building standards.

The more than 70,000 people killed in the May 12 quake included thousands of children crushed in schools, which often collapsed even as nearby apartments and government offices stayed upright.

Protests by grieving parents blaming government corruption and neglect for the deaths have become the most volatile political legacy of the disaster. And Zeng’s reported detention appears to be another official step to stifle potential unrest.

The centre said in a fax that Zeng’s husband confirmed he had received official notice and that she was likely to face trial.

Police offices contacted in Mianyang, the city in Sichuan where Zeng was said to be held, refused to offer any comment on the report, and nor could Zeng’s family be contacted.

The centre said Zeng, 56, was formerly a teacher at the Southwest China University of Science and Technology in Mianyang and was taken away by police on June 9. She published her essays on overseas Chinese websites in May.

Huang Qi, a dissident living in the Sichuan province capital, Chengdu, has also apparently been detained after offering help to grieving parents and other quake victims.

Authorities have also prevented parents from holding their own memorial services.

But questions about the crumpled schools continue to well up, even in the country’s state-run media.

A commentary in the Southern Metropolitan Daily, an outspoken tabloid published in the far southern city of Guangzhou, called for no laxity in rebuilding schools across the quake zone.

“In ensuring the safety of schools and students, nobody has the right to make any errors of any sort,” the paper said on Wednesday.

Xinhua news agency said Beijing would scrutinize “super-high buildings” in the capital, including the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium and the leaning towers of the new headquarters for China Central Television, for quake resistance.

“Many were designed by foreign designers who came from non-quake zones and lacked anti-quake design experience,” a Beijing Municipal Construction Committee official was quoted as saying.

Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson