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Parents yanked from protest over deaths

The police action was the clearest signal yet that authorities are hardening their stance against the impromptu displays of public anger over the May 12 earthquake that collapsed schools and killed thousands of children.

The students' deaths have become the focus for Chinese, both inside and outside the quake zone, fueling accusations about corruption in school construction. The brewing public anger has become a political challenge and threatens to turn popular sentiment against the authoritarian government as it copes with aiding millions displaced by the disaster.

Aggrieved parents and even rescuers have pointed to steel rods in broken concrete slabs that were thinner than a ball point pen among the 7,000 classrooms that were destroyed.

Journalists were then dragged up the courthouse steps by police – “For your safety!” they shouted. The journalists were held inside and questioned for a half-hour before being let go, after the protesters had been moved away.

The parents were forced along the sidewalk and out of sight. Surrounded by police at a side entrance to the courthouse, they tried to present what some described as a lawsuit, saying they had no other option because local officials weren't responding.

The papers were refused, the parents said. Calls to local police were not answered.

“This wasn't a riot!” Zao Ming, an official from the foreign affairs office of the local government, said after the protest. “These people were just disrupting society. … The government will solve their problems.”

The government has taken some steps to try to help grieving parents. On Tuesday, Beijing began giving compensation to some families whose children were killed – about $144 per year to each parent who lost an only child. The Ministry of Civil Affairs also announced that parents who had lost their only child had first priority in adopting children orphaned by the disaster.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the quake rose Tuesday to 69,107 and relief efforts continued in the sprawling disaster zone. Thousands of soldiers searched for a military helicopter that crashed Saturday near the epicenter, with 14 injured quake victims and a crew of five aboard.

Authorities also monitored the climbing water levels in a huge lake formed when a quake-triggered landslide blocked a river, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.