War In The Balkans - China: Bomb victims' ashes return

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE grief mingled with political propaganda yesterday as China brought home its dead and wounded from Belgrade - the raw emotion of the bereaved piercing the artifice of Communist Party ritual.

A sombre welcoming party in Peking met a special flight from Yugoslavia. Honour guards marched slowly down the airliner's steps, ahead of the victims' families, who were met by Vice-President Hu Jintao.

But no staging could disguise the anguish of Zhu Fulai as he emerged from the plane clutching two caskets containing the ashes of his daughter, 27, and 31-year-old son-in-law. The couple, who married last year, were journalists for the newspaper Guangming Daily.

Ahead of him, the 19-year-old son of Shao Yunhuan, 48, carried the urn of his mother, a journalist with China's official news agency, Xinhua.

The main television channel showed the arrival ceremonyseveral times. Viewers saw the wounded from the Nato-hit Chinese embassy taken on stretchers to ambulances.

One man, his face and hands bandaged, strained to shake hands with the Vice-President. "I welcome you home on behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council," said Mr Hu.

It was a day which the central government had decreed should be for dignified mourning. After four days of demonstrations near the United States and British embassies, China turned off the flow of public protests. No one was allowed into the diplomatic district.

At the Guangming Daily offices, President Jiang Zemin and the other six members of the party politburo's standing committee - the highest tier of power - met relatives of the dead couple. Zhu Rongji, the Prime Minister, sobbed openly.

Media commentaries lauded Ms Shao as a hard-working party member and the dead couple for writing articles from Belgrade "exposing US-led Nato hegemony". But the images of grief-stricken relatives cut through the propaganda.