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China Milk Scandal: Police Detain Parent To Prevent News Conference

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BEIJING — Police detained the father of a child sickened by tainted milk apparently to prevent him and other parents from holding a news conference to complain that proposed compensation for their ill children is too low, a lawyer said Friday.

Dairies announced details of a 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan this week as at least 17 people went on trial for the contamination that killed at least six children and sickened nearly 300,000 others. The milk contained melamine, an industrial chemical that caused kidney stones in children.

Twenty-two dairies implicated in the scandal sent a mass New Year's text-message to Chinese mobile phone users apologizing for the contamination. "We deeply express our grief, sincerely apologize and earnestly hope to be pardoned," the message said.

The news conference, scheduled for Friday, was called off after organizer Zhao Lianhai was picked up Thursday, said Li Fangping, a lawyer for some of the parents. He said Zhao was being held at a Beijing hotel.

"The purpose was to prevent the parents from holding a news conference," Li said, adding that 10 parents had planned to participate.

The Communist government, which seeks to control what the public sees and hears, frequently suppresses comments about disasters.

The parents "said the compensation was unilaterally set by the companies with no participation from victims' families," Li said. "They thought the amount of compensation was quite low."

Under the plan, families whose children died would receive 200,000 yuan ($29,000), while others would receive 30,000 yuan ($4,380) for serious cases of kidney stones and 2,000 yuan ($290) for less severe cases, according to state media.

Another 200 million yuan ($29 million) would go to a fund to cover bills for lingering health problems.

But a farmer whose son suffered kidney stones and liver damage told The Associated Press this week the compensation wouldn't even cover his medical expenses.

Zhao, who has a 3-year-old child who fell ill but has since recovered, organized other parents and created a Web site about the contamination, Li said.

The scandal has battered China's reputation and set back government efforts to restore confidence in the safety of its products following warnings and recalls abroad about toxic or faulty goods.

Dairy suppliers added melamine, which like protein is rich in nitrogen, to watered-down milk to fool quality tests for protein content. Melamine is used to make plastics and fertilizer and is banned in food in China.