SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has punished 11 Shanghai officials for failing to prevent a New Year’s Eve stampede that killed 36 people, injured dozens and dented the image of the country’s most cosmopolitan and best-managed city.
Municipal officials involved in the investigation blamed the stampede on government and Communist Party leaders from the Huangpu District, home to the riverfront Bund area where the disaster happened.
“The thinking of the Huangpu District government and related department heads was paralyzed, with a serious lack of understanding of guarding against public security risks,” Xiong Xinguang, head of the municipal emergency committee and part of the investigation team, told a news conference on Wednesday.
“Preventative and response preparation was sorely lacking, early warnings on the night were weak, and the response measures were not suitable,” Xiong said.
Most of those killed in the stampede were in their 20s. Another 49 people were injured, with three still in hospital.
Huangpu’s party leader, as well as the district chief, police chief and deputy police chief, were stripped of their party posts and fired, said Wang Yu, deputy head of the municipal procuratorate. Another seven officials - including two city police officers - were disciplined.
The conclusion of the investigation brought some relief to mourning relatives, who had criticized the Shanghai government for reacting slowly, withholding information and pressuring family members not to talk the media.
“At least someone has stepped up and taken responsibility. Now we’ll see what happens about compensating the families,” said Wang Jianhua, whose sister was killed in the stampede.
Shanghai’s city-level officials escaped relatively unscathed in a case that has drawn widespread interest.
Asked why more senior city officials and police were not made to take responsibility, Wang said China’s law on emergencies meant the Huangpu district government was mainly to blame. Other departments were only responsible for “guidance and supervision”.
Shanghai has canceled a series of upcoming events since the disaster, including annual Lantern Festival celebrations.
Caixin magazine reported last week that district officials dined at a nearby riverfront Japanese restaurant owned by the Shanghai government, where average prices range between $305-$628 per person, hours before the stampede.
On Wednesday, the Shanghai municipal government said Huangpu party boss Zhou Wei and other district officials had eaten there. Wang said Zhou and two others had violated the spirit of party rules against extravagance and “using public funds to eat and drink” at a New Year’s countdown party.
Additional reporting by Jane Lanhee Lee and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Paul Tait