2010/05/01

China sets up task force after wave of school attacks: media

BEIJING, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - China has set up a special task force focused on beefing up school security, state media said Saturday, after three violent campus attacks against young children in as many days this week.

Education vice minister Hao Ping said emergency management was a "heavy task", as police patrols near school grounds were bolstered to protect the country's 270 million students, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Hao said 22 university and government experts would investigate "public incidents" in the education system and explore new ways to ensure "scientific emergency management" in the nation's schools.

His remarks came after a farmer attacked children with a hammer at a primary school in eastern China on Friday before setting himself on fire -- the latest in a wave of assaults that has left eight children dead and 50 people injured.

The farmer's rampage in Shandong province left five children and a teacher hurt but in stable condition, Xinhua said.

On Thursday, a jobless man apparently angry over a series of personal and professional setbacks slashed 29 children and three adults with a knife used to slaughter pigs in an attack at a kindergarten in the eastern city of Taixing.

Video footage posted online after the attack shows people said to be parents of the students marching on a street in protest and demanding to see their injured children.

The footage could not be independently verified by AFP and a spokesman for the Taixing government declined to comment on the apparent demonstration on Saturday.

On Wednesday, a 33-year-old teacher on sick leave due to mental problems injured 15 students and a teacher in a knife attack at a primary school in southern China's Guangdong province.

The assailants in both the Taixing and Guangdong attacks were arrested and all victims were said to be out of life-threatening condition.

Also on Wednesday, authorities in Fujian province in the southeast executed a former doctor for stabbing to death eight children and injuring five others on March 23 in a fit of rage after he split with his girlfriend.

The attacks underscore how China -- which has enjoyed lower violent crime rates than the West -- faces a growing public safety threat from disgruntled individuals amid rising mental illness rates and looser social controls.

The education ministry on Friday issued an "urgent" notice calling on schools to strengthen security, tighten restrictions on campus visitors and devise emergency plans.

"We must establish a safety first, prevention first concept," the ministry said in the notice, posted on its website.

Education minister Yuan Guiren said students should be given a "basic knowledge of self-defence", and security cameras installed at school entrances and other "important areas" to prevent further attacks, the Beijing News said.