Fear and Suspicion Stalk Streets of Shijiazhuang After Bombings

Agence France Presse, 17 March 2001

SHIJIAZHUANG, Mar 17, 2001—(Agence France Presse) The crowd gawking at the crumpled pile of rubble in the heart of Shijiazhuang Saturday bristled with fears over new attacks and pointed the finger of suspicion at disgruntled cotton factory workers.

Police barriers kept the crowd of several hundred at a distance from the mass of twisted concrete and metal that one day earlier had been a five-story dormitory housing up to 170 people.

Witnesses say fewer than 30 people survived the huge blast that brought the dormitory attached to the city's Number Three Cotton Factory crashing to the ground at around dawn Friday.

Mourners had laid around 10 baskets of flowers dedicated to the He family which lost four members in the explosion. The names of the dead were written on a white cloth while a huge white ribbon was draped over the door of a nearby building.

As soldiers continued to sift aimlessly through the piles of broken bricks, discarded bicycles and chipped hot water thermoses could be seen nestling in the ruins. All around the site buildings nursed broken windows.

Many locals appeared visibly shocked by the destruction and most bristled with distrust when approached.

If they don't catch these people soon, everybody will be worried, a worker from the city's Number Four Cotton Mill told AFP.

A total of four blasts rocked the Hebei provincial capital at around dawn Friday, with residents saying Saturday up to 200 people were killed.

State television on Saturday evening put the death toll at 108 and said 38 were injured.

Police and soldiers had cordoned off the four bomb sites, while one local said the city's entire police force had been mobilized to search for bombs at all major sites in the city.

They are checking government offices, the water bureau, power stations and all major infrastructure sites, the man, who claimed close connections with the city police, told AFP.

Locals appeared to overwhelmingly believe the blasts were the work of either anti-government forces or disgruntled workers in the city's backbone textile industry.

A majority of the people think that this was done by people unhappy with the government ... people don't have enough to eat and don't have jobs, a middle aged woman said.

We think it is because of anger over official corruption, she said.

Three of the blasts occurred in residential buildings belonging to the city-run number one, three and seven cotton mills, while a fourth blast occurred in a residential building on Dianda Road inhabited by mill leaders and managers.

As the three mills were generally in a good economic situation, some locals suggested the explosions could have been organized by workers in other loss-making textile factories amongst the city's nine mills.

Most people were aware of a pending restructuring of the textile industry, but few had any details of the extent of the reform program. Millions of workers in China's state-run enterprises have been laid off as part of free market reforms. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)