(AFP) – May 12, 2010
BEIJING — Two years after the massive earthquake that devastated China's Sichuan province, families of the thousands of missing people can on Wednesday finally register their loved ones as dead.
Under Chinese law, relatives of the 18,000 missing people can only register their family members as dead two years after they disappeared.
Nearly 70,000 people were killed in the May 2008 quake that devastated parts of the southwestern province and rattled a nation preparing to host the Beijing Olympics.
While the state-controlled press lavished praise on the government quake response and reconstruction effort on Wednesday, critics organised protests in honour of the thousands of children killed when poorly-built schools crumbled.
"We are calling for more people to better understand the true background of the May 12 earthquake and the social negligence and institutional denial and cover-up," prominent artist-activist Ai Weiwei told AFP.
"The real causes of the students' deaths, their names and how they died have still not emerged."
Ai, who has led a two-year campaign to identify the more than 5,300 dead students and shed light on the school collapses, organised an Internet protest to have the names of the children read out in recorded messages posted online.
The efforts of Ai and others since the quake to hold the government accountable for the school collapses have resulted in the jailing of numerous campaigners and ongoing government threats aimed at halting their work.
But the general public has largely applauded their efforts, and even the state-run media urged better prevention methods in the future.
"Many shoddy school buildings collapsed, killing over 5,000 students," the Global Times said in a commentary.
"The second anniversary of the (Sichuan) earthquake should serve as a timely reminder of the crucial role preventative measures have to play in reducing casualties of future earthquakes."
In the two years since the quake, China has invested 654.5 billion yuan (96.3 billion dollars) in reconstruction in the quake zone, building 1.45 million homes and about 3,000 schools, reports said.
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