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China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.

Rescuers honoured in Out-Do Yourself Award

Berine Sua Linggi, the boy who risked his life to save two drowning girls, and a group of teachers who rescued 19 students from drowning received the third F&N Out-Do Yourself Award (OYA) at the Royal Selan-gor Golf Club here.

Berine Sua Linggi, 13, was beaming when he received the award yesterday.

Berine rescued two sisters, Emai Joseph, 5, and Catherine Ubong, 4, who had fallen into the river and were in danger of drowning in a whirlpool in August last year. Bernie said he only wanted to save the two sisters who are from the same village as him.

Young heroes: Berine (left) and another recipient Yvonne Foong proudly showing their awards.

Accompanied by his father, Linggi Merang, Berine said he felt proud yet shy upon receiving the award comprising RM3,000 cash, a certificate, a plaque and F&N products.

Teachers Ikha Nadia Md Idris, Mohd Sharif Ibrahim, Mohd Shah Rizal Zainudin and security guards Rusli Mohamad and Ismail Ahmad were the first to be recognised as a group by the F&N Out-Do Yourself Awards.

Each recipient was presented with RM1,500, a certificate, plaques and F&N products.

The teachers together with the security guards rescued a group of school children when the suspension bridge connecting the 1Malaysia Co-curriculum Centre to Sekolah Kebangsaan Kuala Dipang collapsed into the swift-flowing Kampar river in October last year.

Mohd Sharif and Ismail said they are happy receiving such an award, but at the same time, Mohd Sharif felt sorry and dejected because three pupils lost their lives in the incident.

Tamil death toll ‘is 1,400 a week’ at Manik Farm camp in Sri Lanka

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Tamil death toll ‘is 1,400 a week’ at Manik Farm camp in Sri Lanka

About 1,400 people are dying every week at the giant Manik Farm internment camp set up in Sri Lanka to detain Tamil refugees from the nation’s bloody civil war, senior international aid sources have told The Times.

The death toll will add to concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has failed to halt a humanitarian catastrophe after announcing victory over the Tamil Tiger terrorist organisation in May. It may also lend credence to allegations that the Government, which has termed the internment sites “welfare villages”, has actually constructed concentration camps to house 300,000 people.

Mangala Samaraweera, the former Foreign Minister and now an opposition MP, said: “There are allegations that the Government is attempting to change the ethnic balance of the area. Influential people close to the Government have argued for such a solution.”

News of the death rate came as the International Committee of the Red Cross revealed that it had been asked to scale down its operations by the Sri Lankan authorities, which insist that they have the situation under control.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said: “The challenges now are different. Manning entry and exit points and handling dead bodies, transport of patients, in the post-conflict era are no longer needed.”

Last night, the Red Cross was closing two offices. One of these is in Trincomalee, which had helped to provide medical care to about 30,000 injured civilians evacuated by sea from the conflict zone in the north east.

The other is in Batticaloa, where the Red Cross had been providing “protection services”. This involves following up allegations of abductions and extrajudicial killings, practices that human rights organisations say have become recurring motifs of the Sri Lankan Government.

The Manik Farm camp was set up to house the largest number of the 300,000 mainly Tamil civilians forced to flee the northeast as army forces mounted a brutal offensive against the Tigers, who had been fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland for 26 years.

Aid workers and the British Government have warned that conditions at the site are inadequate. Most of the deaths are the result of water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhoea, a senior relief worker said on condition of anonymity.

Witness testimonies obtained by The Times in May described long queues for food and inadequate water supplies inside Manik Farm. Women, children and the elderly were shoved aside in the scramble for supplies. Aid agencies are being given only intermittent access to the camp. The Red Cross was not being allowed in yesterday.

Experts suggest that President Rajapaksa, the country’s leader, is yet to make good his victory pledge to reach out to the minority Tamil community. “The discourse used by the Government is of traitors and patriots,” Paikiasothy Saravanamuthu, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Sri Lankan analyst, said. “There is no indication that this mode of thinking is slipping.”

Mr Rajapaksa is known for not tolerating dissent; a trait that human rights organisations say was demonstrated this week when five Sri Lankan doctors who witnessed the bloody climax of the country’s civil war and made claims of mass civilian deaths recanted much of their testimony.

The doctors said at a press conference on Wednesday that they had deliberately overestimated the civilian casualties. As government officials looked on, they claimed that Tigers had forced them to lie.

The five men added that only up to 750 civilians were killed between January and mid-May in the final battles of the war. They were then taken back to prison, where they have been held for the past two months for allegedly spreading Tiger propaganda.

The number was far below the 7,000 fatalities estimated by the United Nations. An investigation by The Times uncovered evidence that more than 20,000 civilians were killed, mostly by the army.

The doctors denied other former testimony, including the government shelling of a conflict-zone hospital in February for which there are witnesses from the UN and the Red Cross.

The statements met with scepticism from human rights campaigners. Sam Zarifi, the Asia- Pacific director for Amnesty International, said that they were “expected and predicted”. He added: “There are very significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary, and they raise serious concerns whether the doctors were subjected to ill-treatment.”

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