BEIJING (Reuters) - A spate of school killings in China has “deep-seated” roots in the country’s social tensions that need addressing, Premier Wen Jiabao said.
Wen made the comments to Hong Kong’s Phoenix television after a man in rural China on Wednesday hacked to death seven children and two adults after an argument over a kindergarten lease.
The attack was the sixth on schoolchildren by angry and apparently deranged men since March and prompted official vows to “strike hard” against the problem.
Wen told Phoenix late on Thursday that he “felt extremely distraught” at the children’s deaths and that the country had to look into the reasons.
“As well as adopting vigorous safety measures, we also have to pay attention to addressing some deep-seated causes behind these problems, including dealing with some social conflicts and resolving disputes,” Wen told the Hong Kong-based satellite television network that broadcasts into mainland China.
The premier’s remarks were the most direct yet from a senior leader on the deadly assaults that has stoked worry about the social malaise that some see underneath China’s rapid economic growth and anger among ordinary citizens, especially parents.
Police are now expected by the country’s leaders to help resolve “social conflicts” at a time of transition in society and extremely rapid development, the Public Security Bureau Spokesman Wu Heping also told a news conference on Friday.
“Through checking on and eliminating conflicts that arise at the grassroots level, and by showing concern for disadvantaged social groups, their difficulties should be resolved in a timely way,” Wu said.
“For people with extreme thoughts or intolerant characters, the necessary psychological guidance should be put in place.”
Psychiatric care in China, especially in the countryside, is limited or non-existent and the conditions in mental health wards are often primitive.
There have been several attacks on schools and universities in recent years. In the five previous school attacks since March, 18 people were murdered — all but three of them children — and more than 80 were injured.
China bans nearly all citizens from owning handguns, and the attackers used knives, cleavers and, in one case, a hammer.
Triggers for the attacks have included pent-up grievances over lost jobs, business failures, broken relationships, and a new home that officials had ordered torn down.
Wu also said police forces have stepped up security near schools around the country, and will work particularly to check on and improve protection at privately-run institutions and particularly vulnerable schools, including ones in poorer areas.
The kindergarten at which the attack took place, in the village of Nanzheng, was privately run.
Security forces will focus on “strike hard, vigilance, and management” he said, adding offenders would be tried under Chinese law, but treated without mercy.
“Because leniency toward these frenzied criminals is a crime against the people, it is not meeting our responsibility to hundreds of millions of people,” Wu said.
Editing by Jeremy Laurence