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Originally published Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 12:21 AM

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Chinese county devastated by earthquake sponsors second weddings for widowed survivors

Officials in southwest China will pick up the tab for a group wedding and tropical honeymoon for 20 couples who are remarrying after being widowed by last year's devastating earthquake, state media said Thursday.

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BEIJING —

Officials in southwest China will pick up the tab for a group wedding and tropical honeymoon for 20 couples who are remarrying after being widowed by last year's devastating earthquake, state media said Thursday.

In a goodwill gesture, Beichuan county in Sichuan province will sponsor a group wedding, banquet and five-day island vacations for the couples next month, the China Daily newspaper said.

The gesture appears aimed at easing the ongoing reconstruction process, which has been clouded by public anger over the large number of schools that collapsed in the quake. Officials have not provided an overall figure yet, but parents say at least thousands of children died. The volatile issue has pitted grieving parents, who blame shoddy construction, against local officials who have denied wrongdoing.

"Reconstructing Beichuan does not mean rebuilding the houses that were ravaged, but also rebuilding families that were broken forever," Li Xuesong, a 39-year-old plumber who lost his wife in the earthquake, was quoted as saying.

Li, who was among those selected to be in the group wedding, is engaged to marry a 23-year-old woman from another province, the paper said.

The 7.9-magnitude May 12 quake left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing. More than 10,000 people died in Beichuan, the paper said, with more than 2,000 locals losing their spouses.

Each couple is allowed to invite eight relatives or friends to attend the banquet and will also be given an all-expenses paid trip to Sanya in China's tropical island of Hainan, it said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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