China detains 168 after brick kiln slavery scandal

BEIJING, June 18 (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained 168 people accused of holding workers in virtual slavery under appalling conditions at brick kilns in north-central provinces of the country, a state newspaper reported on Monday.

Of those, 48 were caught in Shanxi province and the rest in neighbouring Henan, the official China Daily said.

The scandal has undermined the ruling Communist Party's promises to build a "harmonious" society with improved rights and income for the nation's hundreds of millions of poor farmers.

The State Council, or Cabinet, has sent a team to investigate the abuses, which have shocked the country and provoked public outrage.

The government has given each of the freed workers -- more than 500 so far -- 1,000 yuan ($131.2) as "sympathy" money, the Beijing News added.

In recent days, Chinese media have exposed brutal conditions for mostly migrant workers at kilns and privately run mines across resource-rich central China.

State television has reported that owners of primitive brick kilns ran their operations like prisons, making use of fierce dogs and thugs who beat minors at will.

One owner accidentally killed a child with a shovel and buried the body at night, state TV said.

Another was apparently beaten to death with a hammer for working too slowly, according to media reports.

Some of the workers, mostly young males, were shown to have festering wounds on their black feet and around their waists, presumably from burns from the kilns where they worked without receiving any pay. ($1=7.624 Yuan)