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Relatives lay flowers at site of China high-speed train crash as anger lingers over handling
WENZHOU, China (AP) ' Grieving relatives laid flowers Friday at the site of a deadly Chinese bullet train crash that stirred public anger at authorities over perceptions that rapid development was given priority over safety.
As a drizzle fell, around two dozen family members gathered at the muddy spot under a viaduct from which four train cars plunged last Saturday, killing 40 people.
Relatives knelt and burned incense and paper charms near a viaduct pillar on which a poem of mourning had been scribbled. They declined to speak to the media.
In the latest attempt to assuage public anger, compensation for each victim was doubled from 500,000 yuan ($78,000) to 915,000 yuan ($142,000), under orders from the State Council, China's Cabinet. It wasn't clear how many families accepted.
Family members and media commentators had complained the original amount was low, particularly given the money the powerful Railway Ministry collects from insurance premiums built into ticket prices.
The crash occurred after one bullet train rammed into another that had stalled after being hit by lightning near the eastern city of Wenzhou. A railway official said Thursday that design flaws in signal equipment and human error caused the crash.
The death toll rose to 40 Friday after one of the 190 injured died, state broadcaster CCTV said.
The crash has also come to be seen as emblematic of the problems with China's breakneck development over the past three decades, sometimes achieved at the expense of public safety and the environment.
The firing of three top officials at the Shanghai Railway Bureau has done little to tamp down criticism that authorities made incomplete attempts to rescue survivors while ordering tracks swiftly cleared to restore service.
Public ire has been focussed on the Railway Ministry, which has long functioned as a government within a government, operating its own police force and courts and incubating a culture of privilege and corruption.
Media and online commentators have questioned the official explanation for the accident and called for an independent investigation excluding ministry experts. Victims' families have complained that ministry officials have discussed only compensation while avoiding the issue of responsibility.
"An explanation by railway authorities for last Saturday's deadly high-speed train crash has raised even more public doubts about what had actually happened to the accident and to the government investigation itself," the official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary Friday.
In a sign of the government's concerns about the public anger, Premier Wen Jiabao held a rare public news conference at the crash site Thursday and said the investigation would be thorough and those found responsible for the crash would be severely punished.
Zheng Qingbi, whose son, Zheng Hangzheng, died in the accident, said Wen's gesture was appreciated, but that "it was the Ministry of Railways that caused this accident; this bureau is the criminal."
"The minister is supposed to come to us and apologize, to comfort us. This is such a basic moral principle as a human," Zheng told AP Television News.
Even the usually docile state-controlled media have called for greater transparency and accountability from authorities. On the popular Twitter-like site Sina Weibo users posted millions of messages, many questioning official explanations and circulating amateur photographs and videos of the crash site.
The top item on CCTV website coverage of the crash was headlined, "Compensation of victims' families does not need to be the sooner, the better, what victims' families need is not money" but answers to their questions.
APTN footage showed people lighting candles and releasing lanterns during a vigil at a public square in Wenzhou city on Thursday night. Nearly 1,000 people attended the vigil and candles were arranged on the ground to form the words "appeal for truth."