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China seizes tainted milk parents to stop court visit

world Updated: Jan 22, 2009 10:12 IST

Reuters
Highlight Story

Chinese police have detained two parents whose children were sickened by drinking tainted milk, to stop them attending the trial of dairy executives implicated in the scandal, one father and fellow activists said on Wednesday.

The men had planed to travel to northern Hebei province for the expected sentencing on Thursday of key figures from the now bankrupt Sanlu group, accused of producing and selling milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine.

The travel clampdown comes days after lawyers representing 213 poisoned children sent a bold but probably hopeless plea to the Supreme Court, seeking to sue several companies that produced contaminated milk.

Beijing is cracking down on dissent in a year of sensitive anniversaries. Toxic milk powder killed at least six children and sickened nearly 300,000 last year, and the case is a potential flashpoint for public anger at a time of slowing economic growth.

Dong Shiliang, a 30-year-old university lecturer from southwestern Yunnan province, said he was seized by police when he tried to board a plane to Beijing and taken into detention.

"I just wanted to give the lawyers details of my child's situation and hear the sentence," he told Reuters by phone from the police station, where he said he was being well treated.

"My wife rang me to tell me that the local government sent a notice to my work today, saying that I was trying to organise a big group of people to go to Beijing...and cause trouble. I have forfeited my personal freedom," he added.

Dong says his fourteen-month old son still has four kidney stones -- a tell-tale result of drinking tainted milk -- months after most ill children are supposed to have recovered.

Beijing police also detained Liu Donglin, who planned to travel to the court to hand out documents about the health of his toddler, said parent-turned-activist Zhao Lianhai. Liu's mobile phone was turned off on Wednesday evening.

Fight for compensation

Zhao has formed a lose online network to fight for better medical care for affected children and more research into the long-term impacts of drinking melamine.

Melamine is used for making plastics, fertilizer and even cement. But at dairies across the country it was added to watered-down milk to fool nutrition tests, because its high nitrogen levels mimic protein.

The parents of the first Chinese child killed by tainted milk formula have received $29,000 compensation, state media reported last week, but protesting parents and the lawyers in the group suit say payouts are too few and too small.

They want firms which survived the crisis to cover long-term health problems and are trying to hold them to account in court, but are struggling because of the ruling Communist Party's influence over the nation's judicial system.

The lawyers, who sent their plea by registered post and have not yet received any kind of reply, said they turned to the Supreme Court after lower level judges refused to hear their case.

The highly unusual intervention is within the court's power, said Xu Zhiyong, one of the lawyers who submitted it, but added that they held little hope of it succeeding.