Series of 4 explosions kills at least 18 in Chinese city

Blasts in Shijiazhuang hit residential buildings around cotton factories

March 17, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - A series of mysterious blasts ripped through buildings in the North China city of Shijiazhuang early yesterday, killing at least 18 people, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua said one of the blasts occurred near a workers' dormitory attached to the state-owned Number Three Cotton Factory.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, an independent watchdog/news agency in Hong Kong, said there were four separate explosions.

It said that 170 people lived in the dormitory next to the Number Three Factory and that - 12 hours after the blast - only 28 people had been rescued.

Other explosions

The center said a second blast tore through a four-story residential building not far from the Number One Cotton Factory, while the third explosion damaged a two-story residential building near the Number Seven Cotton Factory.

A fourth blast struck a residential building on Shijiazhuang's Dianda Road.

There was no immediate explanation for the blasts. That they occurred around the same time in separate buildings, though, suggested they could have been deliberate.

Easy access

Explosions are fairly common in China, where explosives are easy to come by at the nation's many construction sites and in the countryside.

Everyone from laid-off workers to jilted husbands to Muslim separatists has reportedly used explosives to vent anger and frustration or to make a political point.

Shijiazhuang, a city of more than 1 million, lies about 150 miles southwest of Beijing and serves as the capital of Hebei province.

Like many Chinese cities, it has been hard hit by layoffs at state-run factories as the government tries to reform the nation's old command economy.

The painful economic measures have sparked demonstrations around the country in recent years.

Shijiazhuang was a hotbed of bombing in September, when the city suffered five explosions.

In December, the Hebei Higher People's Court sentenced a man named Li Yonghui to death for the series of blasts, which left 28 people injured.

According to Chinese newspapers, Li placed homemade bombs in one of the city's largest department stores, as well as a movie theater, a bus and Shijiazhuang's People's Park.

Just days before China's National Day, Oct. 1, police said, Li called the city government and demanded $1.1 million in blackmail money.

Elementary school blast

Last week, more than 40 people died - most of them young children - in an explosion at an elementary school in Central China's Jiangxi province.

Thursday, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji acknowledged that the school had used children to make firecrackers in the past.

But the government continued to blame the explosion on a lone bomber whom it said villagers had nicknamed "Psycho."

Chinese officials said the man went to the school with two bags of fireworks and set them off.

Victims' parents have called the claim an outrageous lie and blamed the blast on the manufacture of fireworks, which is a cottage industry in that section of Jiangxi province.

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