BEIJING- Chinese parents wept at a memorial for babies poisoned by tainted milk powder, demanding support for sons and daughters still sick a year after the scandal broke and more research into long-term problems.
Plainclothes officers Friday held watch outside the apartment of a father who has spearheaded a campaign by affected parents for more compensation and research, but did not interrupt the gathering of representatives from 11 families.
Missing were two others from eastern Jiangsu province, who were stopped when they left for Beijing, and told they were attending an illegal gathering, host Zhao Lianhai told Reuters.
But the Beijing police unexpectedly gave a last-minute permit for a small seminar in a nearby hotel, followed by the lighting of candles and time for reflection on sick and absent children.
We have to remember this day, when news about the milk powder came to light; we cannot let it happen again, Zhao said in the study which has been the nerve center of his campaign.
China was shaken last year by revelations that a toxic chemical added to substandard milk to allow it to pass quality controls had made nearly 300,000 children sick and killed six.
Many top dairy firms, including Olympic sponsor Yili, were affected, denting faith in Chinese products at home and abroad. Beijing acted fast to stem the scandal, clamping down on milk suppliers and rolling out a compensation plan.
But parents say that in their haste to put the problem behind them, officials have overlooked some victims and not done enough research into the long-term impacts of poisoning by the chemical, melamine, which caused immediate problems like kidney stones.
My son's language abilities are developing too slowly. He also can't eat any meat his digestive system is too weak, so he is on a vegetable diet, said 36 year-old Wang Gang, whose infant son drank tainted milk for 11 months.
We only got 2,000 yuan ($293) compensation.
The government is keen to head off discontent on the sensitive topic and has pressured lawyers who were helping the families, while police have briefly detained some parents. This month has also seen a heavy security clampdown to ensure calm for October 1 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Communist China.
But parents attending the memorial, some of whom had lost children, said they were not worried about the consequences.
My child isn't here so what have I got to be afraid of? They should be afraid of me. It has been a year and they have done nothing, said 25 year-old Zhou Jinzhong.
His daughter started drinking milk from the worst affected company, Sanlu, when she was two days old, and died on her first birthday in June 2008, Zhou said, his eyes welling with tears.
But when he reported her death to local authorities after the scandal broke, they lost his file and then told him it was too late to register her as a melamine victim, he said.
I would like to have another child but I am so scared. If my sister's child gets a cold, I can hardly bear the worry.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)