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Man in coma after burning himself
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-09-16 05:59

HARBIN: A contractor is clinging to life after setting himself on fire in the street on Wednesday when he and his business partners allegedly failed to get back 170,000 yuan owed to them in Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

Cao Qing, 43, is still in a deep coma and could die any moment, said Qu Bin, his doctor at the No 5 Hospital of Harbin.

Thirty-seven per cent of his body was severely burnt, and doctors said Cao's respiration system was also damaged as he inhaled smoke.

Cao Qing, Wang Zhibin and Sun Laiquan who all hail from Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province opened a construction company together in Shenyang last year.

At the beginning of this year they said they signed a contract worth 170,000 yuan (US$20,960) with Harbin Daowai Water and Electricity Company to install the heating systems for two building complexes in Harbin.

When the project was finished in May, however, they alleged that they did not get paid. They said they have tried repeatedly to get the money, but in vain.

Cao poured gasoline on his head and ignited himself shortly after the three walked out of a restaurant where they tried to figure out a way to get back the money owed to them, according to Wang Zhibin.

Wang described how Cao was walking ahead of them before he suddenly took out a mineral water bottle from his pocket and began to pour gasoline on his head.

"We sensed something was wrong when we smelled gasoline," Wang said. "I rushed up and grabbed him from behind."

He struggled and cried "I don't want to go back to Shenyang," as he lit himself with a lighter he already had in his hand, Wang said.

"He was on fire all over, screaming and rolling on the ground with two hands clasping his head."

Wang and Sun took off their jackets and put out the fire before Cao was rushed to the hospital.

Wang said Cao was the worst affected among the three.

"His family is the worst off among the three of us and he has no money to pay for daily expenses if we cannot get the money," Wang said.

"We do not have a backup plan now," said Sun, another contractor. "For this project, both Cao and I mortgaged our houses and invested all our money. But I never imagined that he would go to the extreme."

Chen Xuejun, head of the project for the Harbin company, was not available for comment.

(China Daily 09/16/2005 page3)

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