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January 22, 2015

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District chief axed over Bund tragedy

THE Party chief of Shanghai’s Huangpu District, his deputy and nine other government officials have been sacked or demoted as a result of the New Year’s Eve tragedy on the Bund that left 36 people dead and 49 injured.

Huangpu’s Party Secretary Zhou Wei and his deputy Peng Song, who is also director of the district, were sacked for dereliction of duty and failing to properly respond to the fatal incident, the city government said yesterday.

They were also punished for violating the country’s frugality rules by attending a lavish banquet at a restaurant close to the site of the tragedy, the city’s commission for discipline inspection said.

Zhou and Peng were among 10 people, some of them government officials, invited by a local state-owned investment company to attend the meal, which cost the public purse 2,700 yuan (US$435). Zhou and several other officials left the dinner table to respond to the events on the Bund.

Also sacked were Zhou Zheng, Huangpu’s deputy director and police chief, and Chen Qi, the district’s deputy police chief, an investigation team comprising government officials, lawmakers and public security experts told a press conference yesterday.

Seven other officials, including two from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau’s emergency coordination center, were given disciplinary punishments.

“It is a bloody lesson and extremely cruel. We feel extremely heart-stricken, guilty and very remorseful,” Shanghai’s Party Secretary Han Zheng told a meeting of the city’s Party officials before the press conference.

“The incident could have been avoided if government officials had shown better safety awareness,” he said.

Lack of awareness

“The Huangpu District government should take unshirkable responsibility for the incident,” said Xiong Xinguang, director of the city’s emergency response office who delivered the results of an investigation into the tragedy at the press conference.

The Huangpu government was blamed for a lack of public security awareness that led to the heavy casualties. It was also held liable for its failure to assess the safety risks, its inadequate preparations for the event, and its poor on-site management.

The district tourism bureau was criticized for waiting until December 30 to release details of the change of venue for the New Year countdown, the investigation report said.

Many citizens and tourists were unaware the light show event on the Bund had been canceled, the report said.

The report said also that the number of security staff on duty at the event was “severely insufficient.”

Just 350 police officers, 100 armed police and 108 urban management officers were deployed in the area, it said.

The Huangpu police bureau was criticized for failing to report the situation in time to the district government and taking too long to ask the city public security bureau for reinforcements.

District police also failed to meet the requirement of the city police bureau to report every 30 minutes on the number of people in the area, the report said.

People had been flowing to the Bund from 8pm, but district police failed to take effective measures to control them, it said.

Vice Mayor Zhou Bo expressed his deep condolences and apologized to the victims and their families on behalf of the city.

“The tragedy should never have happened and could have been prevented,” he told the press conference.

The families of those killed in the tragedy will each receive 800,000 yuan (US$129,000) in financial assistance, the Huangpu District government said late yesterday.

Those who were injured will be assisted on a case by case basis, it said.

Mayor Yang Xiong said at the Party officials’ meeting that while dereliction of duty on the part of the district government was the main cause of the incident, it also exposed other safety loopholes.

The city has responded by drawing up new regulations on the management of non-organized public activities, he said.

These will be applied to all tourist spots, schools and subways by the end of June, he said.

Among the measures will be the use of “large screens and outdoor broadcasts” to guide and inform people in the event of an emergency at a public event, he said.

Following the announcement of the punishments, the city government named Weng Zuliang as the new head of Huangpu.

The 52-year-old native of Fujian Province is a former deputy Party chief, deputy director and acting director of Luwan District — which merged with Huangpu in 2011 — and since April 2013 was Party chief of Zhabei District.

Huangpu’s acting director was named as Tang Zhiping, who had served as director of the Shanghai Urban and Rural Construction and Management Committee since February 2014.

The 50-year-old Shanghai native is also a former director of the Shanghai Price Bureau and ex-deputy director of the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission.

The tragedy on the Bund happened at 11:35pm on December 31 when large groups of people moving in opposite directions came together near Chen Yi Square, authorities said yesterday.

The area is close to a sightseeing platform, which runs alongside the Huangpu River and is traditionally considered as one of the best places from which to watch the New Year’s Eve countdown.

Although police had erected safety barriers at the southeast corner of the square, a huge number of people broke through them about 10:37pm as they sought to reach the viewing platform.

At 11:23pm a pileup occurred as people fell over on the steps leading up to the platform.

Though police and members of the public tried to get them back on their feet, the sheer volume of people moving in both directions created a deadly bottleneck.

More and more people were pushed or fell to the ground and dozens of them were trampled underfoot.

The first of 49 ambulances arrived on the scene at 11:49pm, after police and the public managed to create passageways for them through the crowds.

A fleet of police and private vehicles also helped to ferry the injured to hospital.

The report presented yesterday by the investigation team on the tragedy was based on analysis of about 70 hours of video footage taken by 36 surveillance cameras, it said.

The probe also included interviews with more than 150 police officers, subway workers and members of the public who were in the area at the time.

Of the 49 people injured in the incident, three now remain in hospital, said Xu Wei, a spokesman for the city government.

One of the three remains in a coma and is on life support, he said, adding that a second is in a stable condition after being treated for serious injuries. The third is recovering well and should be discharged soon, authorities said.


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