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Japanese rescuers start working in Qingchuan
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A group of Japanese earthquake rescuers have started working right after their arrival at about 3:30 PM at Qiaozhuang Town, seat of Qingchuan County, one of the worst-hit counties in the quake-stricken southwestern Sichuan Province.

The 31 well-equipped rescuers are the first batch of foreign aid personnel to enter China since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Sichuan Province on Monday afternoon.

Another 29 Japanese rescue professionals are expected to arrive later on Friday with sniffer dogs.

Takashi Koizumi, head of the Japanese team, said that the situation in Qingchuan was very severe and they had no idea of the condition of the buildings there, but they were very confident about their task.

He said their most important task was to save lives and they will spare no effort. They are scheduled to stay in Qingchuan about one week but it depends on the situation.

China has also accepted rescue teams from Russia, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Singapore, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang early Friday morning.

The ministry said the first group of 52 Russian rescuers are on their way to Sichuan. Their plane left Russia early on Friday. It is reported that a second group of 38 Russians will also fly to Sichuan later Friday.

A 44-member rescue team from the ROK and a 55-member Singaporean team will also fly to Chengdu later Friday afternoon, according to the latest information from the Foreign Ministry.

Li Wenliang, counselor from the Foreign Ministry, said this was the first time that China had accepted foreign professionals for domestic disaster rescue and relief.

As of 4 PM Thursday, the confirmed death toll in Sichuan alone was 19,509 and more than 50,000 people were feared dead.

(Xinhua News Agency May 16, 2008)

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