SHANGHAI (AFP) – 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 Wednesday, saying the carnage could have been avoided.
New Year revellers, 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 December 31 incident is one that should not have happened and could have been completely avoided,” vice mayor Zhou Bo 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 Communist Party and government posts, including the area’s party chief Zhou Wei and local government head Peng Song, Shanghai officials said.
Authorities imposed lesser, administrative penalties on seven others, including district officials and Shanghai police, they added.
Zhou and Wei 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 also said Wednesday.
Media reports of the meal sparked widespread outrage online. Officials had sushi and noodles washed down with Japanese sake for a bill of more than 2,700 yuan ($443), but dined for free courtesy of a businessman, Shanghai’s discipline inspection commission said.
Officials laid the blame for the crush largely on Huangpu district, though they said other government departments shared responsibility for oversight.
“Preventive preparations were lacking, site management was weak, improper response and handling triggered a stampede which caused major injuries and deaths,” Xiong Xinguang, 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. Some 49 people were injured, the government said, confirming an earlier tally.
No higher-level officials have been punished so far, but there has been speculation that Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng and mayor Yang Xiong 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,” she told AFP.
The announcement of punishments followed the conclusion of an official report on the accident, based on an investigation carried out over three weeks by Shanghai authorities and invited experts.