Suspect arrested in Chinese mass poisoning

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

BEIJING -- Police have arrested a man suspected of putting rat poison in food that state media say killed as many as 49 people in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, a police officer said Tuesday.

The man was caught early Sunday aboard a train in Shangqiu, a city about 250 miles northwest of Nanjing, said the officer, reached by telephone at the Shangqiu train station. He would give only his surname, Li.

The poisonings Saturday, traced to a snack shop, sickened as many as 300 people, according to state media.

Authorities have refused to release a death toll, but a report Tuesday on the Web site of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said 49 people were killed. Citing unidentified sources, it said most were schoolchildren and two were soldiers from a nearby military installation.

The report said some 300 people were hospitalized.

The suspect, Chen Zhengping, was spotted at 3 a.m on Sunday after Nanjing police put out an alert that he was wanted on murder charges and was fleeing aboard the train, Li said.

Li had no other information on Chen's identity or a possible motive. But the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, which has close ties to Chinese authorities, said Chen was the cousin of the snack shop owner, and put poison in its food out of jealousy at his relative's success.

A spokeswoman for the Nanjing city government, who would give only her surname, Wu, refused to confirm whether anyone had been had arrested. or release any information on the investigation. Nanjing police refused to comment.

Wen Wei Po said Chen ran a competing shop and was angry that his business wasn't as successful as his cousin's. The report didn't identify the source of the information.

Tests on the Nanjing poison have identified it as a brand of rat poison called Dushuqiang, which has been banned for sale in China since the mid-1990s, according to an official of the Nanjing Agriculture and Forestry Bureau.

The poison still is widely available in rural areas from illegal producers, said the official, who refused to give her name.

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