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March 2, 2011

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Traders flouting smoking ban end up behind bars

TRADERS caught smoking inside Shanghai's famous Qipu Road Garment Market ended up spending time behind bars, as authorities get tough on fire hazards.

Police said they have detained five vendors since November, with each being kept in detention for five days for the offense of jeopardizing public safety.

And 11 stores in the complex - also known as "Cheap Road Market" among foreigners - have been punished with short-term closures in recent months for creating fire hazards.

This follows a clampdown to improve fire safety at the packed market which is filled with highly flammable garments.

Qipu Road Garment Market includes 10 malls attracting tens of thousands of customers on an average day, with daily numbers reaching 200,000 during holidays.

Fire safety arrangements across the city have come under close scrutiny since the inferno at a Jiaozhou Road high-rise on November 15 killed 58 people and injured 71.

A Shanghai Daily reporter visiting Qipu Road market yesterday discovered no smokers, a major improvement on the past. Tough punishments have curbed smoking there, said the district police and fire control authorities.

"We decided to adopt detention as a tough way to stop smoking inside the market, following the deadly blaze last November," said Zhou Quanming, head of the Zhabei District Fire Control Team.

"Vendors all signed letters accepting the possible outcome of smoking inside the market," he added.

Stores blocking emergency exits with stock were also targeted.

"In recent months, we have punished 11 stores for repeated violations of safety rules," Huang Qin, a district police official, said.

Police stopped these stores opening for up to five days. "The problem has reduced greatly since we brought in tougher rules," Huang added.

The fire control authority says there are still serious fire risks at the market. Some older buildings include housing above the market area and in the event of an emergency it would be difficult for residents to escape quickly. Some vendors also store flammable stock in apartments.

Market Manager Ding Hanxin said more security workers are being hired and professionally trained to reinforce fire safety.

"Such tough punishments could be adopted in more public places," according to Jiang Xian, a local lawyer and a member of the city's political advisory body.


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