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Wen Reaches Out to Tsunami-hit Fishermen

He has descended into the abyss of a coal mine in China, flown aid to tsunami-ravaged Indonesia, and now he has walked through the battered remains of a town bordering the Indian Ocean. 

People say Premier Wen Jiabao's flurry of trips to areas struck down by disaster have won him the hearts of millions at home and abroad.


Undaunted by the scorching heat of tropical Sri Lanka, Wen traveled on Saturday to the town of Panadura, a fishing harbor 27 kilometers south of Colombo, which was crippled by the December 26 tsunami.


The visit, marked by the absence of shoulder-rubbing with high profile officials, was part of Wen's brief one-and-a-half-day official tour of the island nation that began on Friday.


He moved on to India to continue his four-nation South Asian tour Saturday evening.


Wen went to Panadura to attend a ceremony for the reconstruction of the town's fishing harbor, the first of six such projects to be undertaken by a Chinese company as part of China's aid package to Colombo.


Wen gave himself enough time before the ceremony to visit a fisherman's makeshift house, and chat with locals.


Throngs soon surrounded the premier, and one of them presented Wen with a gift of banyan tree leaves, a token of respect.


Standing on a mound of rubble, Wen waved to the townspeople, who returned his waves with a round of applause.


"When disaster came to Sri Lanka, the Chinese government and people felt as if they themselves were suffering," Wen told the town's fishermen.


With an understanding of the damage caused by the waves to Colombo's fishing industry and infrastructure, China decided to dispatch a company to rebuild Sri Lanka's harbors, he said.


"I've also used my special plane to carry with me some daily necessities (for the victims)," he said, referring to a Boeing 747, a civil aircraft that took him from Pakistan to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.


China had donated 166 million yuan (US$20 million) to Sri Lanka by March. On Friday, Wen announced a further donation of US$8.7 million from China's Ministry of Civil Affairs and Red Cross Society of China.


In order to prevent similar disasters in the future, the premier said China would help the country set up a seismological network, and provide training for an early warning system for tsunamis and other natural catastrophes.


"I'm proud he came to our town, he brings hope to us," said Ranjith Perise, a local fisherman.


On December 26, wall-high waves tore apart the harbor, washing away quarters, and ripping apart a host of residential houses nearby.


Living unemployed on a government allowance of 5,000 rupees (US$50) a month since that day, Perise said he badly wanted the harbor to be fixed.


In addition to claiming the lives of at least 400,000 people, the calamity dealt a heavy blow to fishing industries across the region, one of Sri Lanka's pillar sectors, said Fisheries and Ocean Resources Minister Chandrasena Wijesinghe.


With a 120-meter-long bulwark razed to the sea floor, and silt deposited up to one meter thick, the harbor, where 200 fishing vessels once moored, appeared lifeless during Wen's visit.


In answer to the Chinese government's call for assistance for Sri Lanka, China Harbor Engineering Co. offered to help Colombo rebuild six of its 11 damaged fishing harbors, the company president Meng Fengchao said.


"Panadura was one of the worst-hit harbors," Meng told China Daily. "We expect to resume its operation in eight months."


Meng's company allotted one and a half years to reinforce the embankments, dredge the silt and overhaul the harbor facilities of all six affected harbors.


Meeting with Meng, the premier said: "You must give top priority to quality."


Wen began his weeklong South Asian tour, which covers Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, last Tuesday.


(China Daily April 11, 2005)

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