"We didn't do it", male friends of dead girl say

2008-07-05 09:33:22 GMT       2008-07-05 17:33:22 (Beijing Time)       China Daily

(From left) Liu Yanchao, Chen Guangquan and Wang Jiao, friends of Li Shufen, the 17-year-old girl who drowned in a river in Weng'an late last month, speak to reporters on Friday in the county in Guizhou province. The trio was with Li before she died. [China Daily]

WENG'AN, Guizhou - The two men who were with 17-year-old Weng'an resident Li Shufen before she jumped in a river late last month said on Friday they did not rape her, following autopsy reports confirming that the girl had drowned.

Both men said they jumped into the river on the night of June 21 to try and save the girl, even though they could not swim well and one has a leg injury.

Their claim was the latest development in the controversial death of Li that led to demonstrations in Weng'an county over the weekend involving more than 30,000 protesters.

Authorities had concluded that Li drowned, but her family and protesters had said she was raped and killed.

On Wednesday, a team of forensic scientists from Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, conducted a third autopsy on Li to check whether she was raped before jumping into the river.

The third postmortem examination confirmed the results of two previous autopsies carried out by forensic scientists at the county- and prefecture-level, that the girl had drowned and there was no sign of her having had sex before she jumped into the river.

"I didn't rape her," Chen Guangquan, 21, said. He said he had been Li's boyfriend for several days despite having known her for less than a month.

Injured in the right leg from a car crash two months ago, Chen said he had also jumped into the river to save the other man, Liu Yanchao, 18, who was struggling after trying to save Li.

Together with a 16-year-old girl, Wang Jiao, both men were with Li at the scene of her death after a drinking session.

Both Chen and Liu said the depth of the river was much greater than their height and about 20 m wide.

After failing to save Li, the men said they got back on the riverbank and called police using Wang's cell phone.

The trio said police arrived soon after but no one had jumped into the river to save Li.

The Party chief of the county and the county magistrate were sacked on Friday.

Two security bureau chiefs of the county were also sacked earlier.

The provincial authority said that every year, about 600 to 800 criminal cases take place in the county, but half of them are not solved.

Provincial Party Chief Shi Zongyuan said the deep-rooted reasons behind the protest were "rude and roughshod solutions" by local authorities to solve disputes over mines, demolition of homes for public projects, the relocation of residents for reservoir construction and many other issues.

I have comments _COUNT_