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China decides on new location for quake-leveled county seat
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China has decided on a new site for the county seat of Beichuan, the worst-hit place in the May 12 earthquake.

It will be located to the east of Anchang Township in the southwestern Sichuan Province, about 35 kilometers from where it was, local officials said on Wednesday.

Construction is scheduled to start in February, said Chen Xingchun, secretary of the county's Communist Party committee.

"Flat and surrounded by hills, the new area covers eight square kilometers. The Anchang River passes the area from the northwest to the southeast. It is suitable for construction," he said.

The first phase of the construction includes roads, government headquarters, public welfare facilities and housing. Work is estimated to cost nearly 20 billion yuan (about US$3 billion).

"The choice of the location has been approved by the State Council (Cabinet). The construction plan for the new county is now open for public comment until mid-December," Chen said.

About 77 percent of Beichuan's 220,000 displaced residents will be able to live in the Anchang River valley location or at its foot hills.

The development of the new county will focus on attracting tourists as well as preserving the culture of the region, according to the blueprint.

The Beichuan Autonomous County of Qiang Nationality, a mountainous area, is the ancestral home of an ethnic group known as the Qiang. There are around 300,000 Qiang throughout China.

Their unique culture can be traced to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). They have their own language, food and arts, all of which face extinction partly because of the earthquake.

More than 8,600 of the 13,000 people living in the Beichuan county seat were killed in the quake. About 70 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

An expert team led by Li Xiaojiang, head of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, spent more than a month choosing the new county seat after collecting comments from the local government and residents.

The team regarded safety as the top priority in selecting a new location. Li said careful geological appraisal of the land was done to make sure it is safe.

The new county seat was chosen out of four possible locations.

(Xinhua News Agency December 12, 2008)

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