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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.

SCENARIOS – Japan PM in pinch, opposition has woes before poll

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Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso speaks during a joint news conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Aso’s official residence in Tokyo July 1, 2009.

SCENARIOS – Japan PM in pinch, opposition has woes before poll

TOKYO (Reuters) – Moves to ditch unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso are likely to grow ahead of a national election after the ruling bloc lost a key local race on Sunday, but the opposition has its own headache over a funding scandal.

The latest opinion polls showed the Democrats lead Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) ahead of a lower house election due by October, but the gap has shrunk after the Democratic Party’s leader admitted misreporting donations.

Below are scenarios for how developments may unfold before the election. No major economic legislation is before parliament, so the jockeying is unlikely to have an immediate impact on policy, and ultimately what matters is who forms the next government.

The Democrats have pledged to reduce bureaucrats’ grip on policy, cut waste and pay more heed to consumers and workers’ interests than to companies. But like the LDP, they are putting priority on the need to foster an economic recovery rather than the repair of Japan’s tattered public finances.

PROSPECTS OF EARLY ELECTION FADING?

Aso is thought to want to dissolve the lower house for an election on Aug. 2, Aug. 8 or Aug. 9 after returning from this week’s G8 summit in Italy, for which he departs on Monday.

Some analysts say chances of that scenario are fading after an LDP candidate lost a tight race for governor of Shizuoka, central Japan, on Sunday.

A poor performance in a July 12 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election — seen as a bellwether for the national poll — would logically make it even less likely.

Others, though, said the possibility that a desperate Aso would dissolve parliament’s lower house soon after the Tokyo election could not be ruled out.

PARTY DUMPS ASO

Moves to dump Aso are expected to heat up following Sunday’s local election loss and intensify further if the LDP loses its status as top party in the Tokyo assembly, with possible successors including Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe.

But Aso is the third prime minister to take office since the LDP won big in the last general election for the lower house in 2005, so changing leaders again might well outrage voters.

Finding a successor popular enough to turn the tide for the ruling bloc could be difficult.

The LDP’s poor outlook has also prompted talk of new parties, with former internal affairs minister Kunio Hatoyama, who quit the cabinet last month, and ex-financial service minister Yoshimi Watanabe, who left the LDP in January, possible focal points.

WAITING GAME

A weakened Aso might hold on in hopes that huge government stimulus steps will bolster signs of recovery from Japan’s worst recession since World War Two, encouraging voters to stick with the ruling bloc. Possible election dates in this scenario include Aug. 30, Sept. 6 and even Oct. 18.

LDP heavyweights will likely be more inclined to wait after recent surveys showed that a scandal over improper reporting of political donations by Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama is eroding the opposition party’s lead over the long-ruling party.

The Democrats have already lost one leader to a funding scandal and some analysts said further erosion of voter support might even prompt them to ditch Hatoyama for Secretary-General Katsuya Okada, a policy-maven with a “Mr. Clean” image.

But the ruling party itself is far from immune to scandals.

DEMOCRATS’ WIN STILL LIKELY

The Democratic Party still looks on track to take power in the general election, although the scandal over Hatoyama’s donations is endangering its chances of winning a majority without two small allies, one leftist and one conservative.

Even if the Democrats win a majority on their own, they are expected to form a coalition with those allies, since their cooperation is needed to control the upper house. That could make policy formation a bit bumpy.

Should the ruling bloc manage to cling to power, it looks certain to lose the two-thirds majority that allows it to override the opposition-controlled upper house.

That means policies would become even harder to implement, unless lawmakers switch sides or form a “grand coalition”.

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