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Death toll rises to 108 in China blasts

Published Sep. 9, 2005

Newspapers publish a wanted notice for a suspect, a man who lived in one of the destroyed buildings.

The death toll in four coordinated explosions that shook a central Chinese city early Friday rose to 108, while the investigation into the blasts has apparently focused on a resident of one of the destroyed buildings who is already wanted for murder.

State television reported that 38 people also were injured in the explosions, which leveled one five-story residential building and damaged three others in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, about 160 miles south of Beijing.

Meanwhile, local newspapers carried a rare front-page wanted notice for Jin Ruchao, 40, who is suspected in a March 9 killing of a woman in southwestern China and other "current" and "extremely serious crimes."

The notice did not mention Friday's blasts but offered a $6,000 reward, a huge amount of money in the region's depressed economy and a tactic that's almost unheard of in China.

The notice said Jin was a resident of the building where the biggest blast occurred, a residential block for workers at the city's No. 3 Cotton Mill. That building was flattened by the first of Friday's explosions at about 4 a.m., and most of the deaths and injuries occurred there.

Little other information was given about Jin, who was described in the wanted notice as deaf and whose accompanying picture showed a thin, angular-faced man with a receding hairline and sideburns. A woman answering the telephone at the main office of the No. 3 Cotton Mill said she did not know if Jin had been an employee at the company, which has about 10,000 workers.

Rumors in the city initially suggested that angry laid-off factory workers might be responsible for the bombings. Shijiazhuang, in the heart of China's cotton belt, is a hub of the country's financially troubled textile industry, which has laid off about 1.4-million cotton mill workers since 1998.

Friday's explosions occurred within one hour and several miles of each other, damaging residential buildings for workers at two cotton mills, a railroad agency and a construction company.

Residents of Shijiazhuang, a city of 7-million, expressed surprise at Friday's attack.

"Law and order has always been pretty good here. Now I don't know," said a man selling bicycle seats who declined to give his name, according to the Associated Press. "There is unemployment and there are people who don't like the government, but isn't that the same in a lot of cities?"

Others said the scale of damage was so great that if it was a planned attack, it seemed impossible for one person to do alone.

Wang Zhongyu, secretary general of China's Cabinet, toured the explosion sites Friday, visited the injured in hospitals and met local officials, state media said.

Chinese leaders are eager to express concern for public safety. Their image has suffered since a string of fatal fires, building collapses and other disasters have highlighted chronic disregard for safety.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.