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Suicide stalks quake-zone officials

AN official in one of the areas hardest hit by last May's devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province hanged himself yesterday - the third such suicide as the longer-term effects of the tragedy take hold.

He left behind a note saying he was depressed, but he did not explain his motives for taking his own life. Acquaintances said the official had been in a long period of mourning over his only child, who died in the quake.

The victim was identified as Feng Xiang, 33, vice director of the Communist Party of China's publicity department in Sichuan's Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County and a former journalist.

After his seven-year-old son was killed in the May 12 earthquake, Feng worked hard in the aftermath of the tragedy, earning a promotion. But people who knew him said he never emerged from the shadow of his son's death.

He posted an essay entitled "Many Ifs" on his Internet blog early yesterday, and Netizens who talked to him online said he was depressed. Feng said goodbye in the essay to his family and friends.

"If I die one day, my brother, please shoulder the responsibility to take care of our parents ... If I die one day, my wife, please do not be grieved," he wrote. "Depression has been my closest friend. It takes me away and all my sadness ..."

Feng is the third official in Beichuan to have committed suicide following the earthquake.

He Zonghua, 40, director of the human resources and training department of the general office of Mianyang City, jumped from a 15th-floor hotel room in the city center in November after suffering serious depression. Dong Yufei, 40, the agriculture commission head and disaster relief office director of Beichuan County, hanged himself in October. Dong lost his 12-year-old son and other relatives in the quake.

Authorities were urged to offer more psychological intervention for government officials and people in the disaster areas. The deaths and suicides of some quake zone officials were attributed to anxiety and overwork, said psychologist Zhang Wei, deputy director of the West China Medical School of Sichuan University.

"County-level officials face heavy pressure as they have to satisfy superior officials and the public, but they are also quake survivors," Zhang said. "More than 460, or one-fourth of Beichuan County officials, died in the quake. Even more lost their families. These officials need help from others. They need more mental health assistance."

The Sichuan government dispatched groups last year to the 10 worst-hit counties to help relieve officials' mental stress. The government also budgeted funds for improving the work and living conditions of the officials.

"I have to handle too many things every day," said Guo Yongfu, deputy mayor of Shifang City, another badly hit area. "I do not allow myself to weep, although my only daughter died in the quake.

"When I'm asked what's going on with her, I always say she is being treated in another province. I must bear the pain myself."

The quake killed about 20,000 people in Beichuan County, and the county was destroyed. About 80,000 people were killed overall in the disaster.

Beichuan's former county seat will be made into a memorial park.

Survivors of the quake have been relocated, and the new county seat is at Yongchang Town, 23 kilometers away.


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