BEIJING (Reuters) - China vowed on Wednesday to take severe measures against any state-owned companies found to have built public buildings such as schools which collapsed like houses of cards following the massive earthquake on May 12.
The government has already begun a probe into the huge numbers of school collapses that killed thousands of children and buried thousands more when many other buildings remained standing.
The quake, which struck the populous southwestern province of Sichuan, has killed more than 40,000 people, and that number seems certain to climb further as rescuers keep combing through the rubble.
It struck in the middle of the afternoon when many children were at their desks or taking a nap.
Li Rongrong, head of China’s state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission who is in charge of overseeing the country’s huge state sector, said generally construction companies under him were very good.
“Their building projects to date have been very good, and these firms have a very good reputation both at home and abroad,” Li told a news conference.
“If these buildings (which collapsed) were built by major state-owned firms, we will take severe measures,” he added, without elaborating.
Li said that the government had sent three experts to Sichuan to probe this issue.
A score of high-profile cases of hundreds of children being killed instantly or buried beneath their schools has fuelled anger from parents who have accused authorities of cutting costs and failing to meet safety standards.
Last week, the housing minister conceded that cost-cutting may have played a part.
Bloggers and state media have also raised questions after pictures of collapsed schools surrounded by relatively unscathed buildings.
At what used to be the Fuxing primary school in Mianzhu’s Wufu township, some 300 parents and other relatives of the children killed in the quake held memorial services to mourn the dead on Wednesday.
At least 127 children died when one of the school buildings collapsed.
“An answer must be given to our children. There is a problem with the buildings. The teachers are also responsible. None of the buildings here collapsed except for this one building,” said Li Xiaoping, whose 11-year-old son was among the dead.
The parents put up an altar on the rubble, decorated with joss sticks and candles.
Over the altar, a long banner was unfurled with words written on white cloth reading: “Remembering with bitter sadness the children who died in wrongful circumstances”.
The parents also placed wreaths along the road leading to the school, where another banner read: “The children did not die of a natural disaster but of an unsafe building”.
Additional reporting by a Reuters reporter in Sichuan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Roger Crabb