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Chinese authorities apologize for rapid cremations

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BEIJING (AP) — Authorities in southern China have offered a rare apology for failing to consult with relatives before rapidly cremating the remains of 46 victims of a landslide blamed by some on a local mining operation.

Officials had hoped to avoid spreading disease and spare relatives the trauma of viewing the mangled remains, state media reported Tuesday. They also said the morgue in the remote part of Yunnan province had no refrigerator, requiring that remains be dealt with swiftly.

"We did that because we were afraid that the bodies would start to decay, and some bodies have been damaged in the landslide and we thought the family members would be too distraught to see them," Hu Jianpu, deputy head of Zhenxiong county, where the disaster occurred, told state broadcaster CCTV.

The official Xinhua News Agency and CCTV reported that county officials issued their "sincere apologies" to the relatives.

Residents who usually bury their dead after elaborate funerals protested the rapid cremations, prompting the unusual apology.

Stability-obsessed local Chinese authorities sometimes seize the bodies of accident victims to prevent emotional scenes that could develop into protests against them, as well as to persuade relatives to quickly agree to compensation offers.

Calls to Zhenxiong county and Communist Party offices rang unanswered Tuesday, and a local spokesman did not answer calls to his cellphone.

The cause of Friday's landslide amid steep, snow-dusted mountains remains under investigation, with some villagers blaming a local mining operation.

Xinhua quoted some villagers as saying blasting and other mining work had opened up huge fissures in the mountain looming over the villages of Gaopo and Zhaojiagou, where 14 homes were smothered.

A preliminary investigation last week blamed saturation from more than 10 days of rain and snow for the disaster.

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