Thu, Jan 22, 2015 - Page 1 News List

China removes four local officials over Shanghai stampede

AFP, SHANGHAI

Four local officials in Shanghai have been sacked after 36 people died in a New Year’s Eve crush on the city’s famous waterfront, known as the Bund, the city government announced yesterday, saying the carnage could have been avoided.

New Year revelers, many of them young women, were trampled after flocking to the Bund, known for its historic architecture, with severe overcrowding raising questions about why authorities failed to enforce stronger safety measures.

“The Dec. 31 incident is one that should not have happened and could have been completely avoided,” Shanghai Vice Mayor Zhou Bo (周波) told a news conference, the first open to foreign media since the incident.

Four district officials in Huangpu, where the accident took place, had been relieved of their Chinese Communist Party and government posts, including the area’s party chief, Zhou Wei (周偉), and local government head Peng Song (彭崧), officials said.

The government imposed lesser, administrative penalties on seven others, including district officials and police officers, they added.

Zhou and Peng were among several officials who went to a high-class restaurant for a “midnight snack” shortly before the accident without paying for the meal, in violation of party rules, Shanghai’s corruption watchdog said yesterday. Media reports of the meal sparked widespread outrage online.

Officials laid the blame for the crush largely on Huangpu District, though they said other government departments shared responsibility for the oversight.

“Preventive preparations were lacking, site management was weak, improper response and handling triggered a stampede, which caused major injuries and deaths,” Xiong Xinguang (熊新光), head of Shanghai’s emergency management office, told the news conference.

“The Huangpu district government and related departments have inescapable responsibility for this incident,” he said.

No higher-level officials have been punished so far, but there has been speculation that Shanghai Chinese Communist Party Secretary Han Zheng (韓正) and Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong (楊雄) might be implicated.

Fan Ping, who lost her husband Du Shuanghua, said city-level officials should be held accountable.

“I think they are all responsible, this can be considered the responsibility of the city government. Now, let’s see the next step for how they handle it,” Fan said.

The report, also released yesterday, described a chain of events in which district police and officials were aware of growing crowds, but failed to act or communicate the risk to higher-level authorities.

“The constant flow of people up and down the stairs caused a deadlock, then a surging wave,” the report said, referring to a stairway connecting to an elevated promenade along the Bund. “Pressure from the crowd going down increased, causing some at the bottom of the stairs to lose their balance and fall, leading to many people falling, overlapping, which caused the stampede.”

“Do you think the punishment was reasonable?” Cai Jinjin, the cousin of victim Qi Xiaoyan, asked rhetorically. “They made some people the scapegoats.”

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