China's Hu takes up case of dead reporter

Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 1:19 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Hu Jintao has seized the controversy over a Chinese reporter who died after being beaten while investigating a coal mine, ordering officials to explain his death, Chinese media reported on Wednesday.

Lan Chengzhang, who worked for the China Trade News, died of an apparent brain hemorrhage after over 20 thugs set upon him and his taxi driver on January 10 at a mine in Hunyuan county, in the northern province of Shanxi.

In a sign of the political aftershocks of Lan's death, Hu and other senior Communist Party officials sent instructions "demanding that the case be rapidly investigated and the results be reported as quickly as possible," the semi-official China News Service reported, citing government officials.

Officials in Shanxi, which produces a quarter of China's coal, have said Lan, 35, was not an accredited reporter and suggested he may have been seeking payoffs in return for not reporting problems at the unlicensed mine.

China's coal mines are the deadliest of any major producer, with 4,746 workers killed in accidents in 2006, and the central government has been pushing to expose and close illegal mines.

The allegations about Lan ignited a storm of criticism from Chinese newspapers, which questioned the officials' motives and said Lan's lack of an official pass was no excuse to beat him.

Officials from Datong, a city that oversees Huanyuan County, told a news conference on Tuesday that seven people have been detained over Lan's death -- including the mine owner -- and three other suspects were being pursued.

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