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Rat Poison Is Suspected in 41 Deaths in China

Asia: Hundreds more are sickened after eating breakfast snacks at the same restaurant.

September 16, 2002|From Reuters

BEIJING — Rat poison may be to blame for a mass food poisoning that killed 41 people and sent hundreds to hospitals near China's eastern city of Nanjing over the weekend, state media reported today.

"Initial investigations indicate there was rat poison in the food that was served to victims," the China Daily quoted Zhou Qiang, a Jiangsu provincial government spokesman, as saying.

The paper said doctors treating the victims said their symptoms were consistent with ingesting rat poison, and Zhou said it could have been put in a restaurant's breakfast snacks deliberately.

The official New China News Agency said on its Web site Saturday that 400 people, many of them schoolchildren and construction workers, were poisoned at the breakfast shop in the town of Tangshan, and 41 had died.

It later reverted to an earlier story, saying 200 were poisoned, and dropped the toll, saying that only a number of people had died. Zhou was quoted by the China Daily as saying the death toll was "less than 100."

Locals who had seen scores of ambulances, however, estimated that more than 100 had died, and some said they saw victims bleeding from the mouth and ears.

Authorities had held for questioning the boss of the Heshengyuan Soy Milk chain store, which sells food including sesame cakes and fried dough sticks.

China's Cabinet and the Communist Party's Central Committee sent a team of police and health officials to investigate the case, state media said, highlighting concerns in Beijing about bad publicity in the run-up to a key leadership transition expected later this year.

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