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Head-On Collision Kills 18 Kindergarteners In China, Prompting Outcry

A truck carrying coal slammed into a overcrowded bus this morning in the Northwest Chinese township of Yulinzi, killing 18 children and two adults. According to China's official news agency Xinhua, 44 other children were injured. Xinhua reports that "a van with nine seats was carrying 64 people."

Reuters reports that the accident has prompted anger toward the government:

Officials hurried to the scene to offer support and promised a crackdown on road hazards. But a flood of messages on Chinese web sites echoed with outrage about lax safety enforcement.

"The nursery school can't shirk responsibility for such serious overcrowding," said one comment on Sina's "Weibo" microblogging site.

Another said: "Why don't we protect children in the same way we protect our leaders?"

Chinese authorities have tried to crack down on dangerous driving but breakneck economic growth, and rapid expansion in the number of roads and drivers, creates many menaces, especially on poorly policed rural roads.

Over the past few years, China has experienced a series of incidents that resulted in rare criticism of the authoritarian regime. Back in January, a battery factory poisoned 24 children. Then in August, a high-speed train crash killed 40 people. There was so much outrage over that crash that China ordered media outlets to only report positive stories. In September, a subway train collision in Shanghai injured more than 200 people.

The AP reports the van was headed to drop off the children at a kindergarten. The news agency spoke to on expert who explained what this crash says about China's spotty safety record:

"'This accident says a lot about the problems with the government's role of monitoring school safety,' said Liu Shanying, expert in public administration at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 'It involves the education, traffic safety and work safety authorities. They should all be blamed for this. They should all be held responsible.'

"'The kindergarten van was carrying seven times as many passengers as it should have been, which meant the kindergarten should have bought seven times as many vans,' Liu said."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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