China Moves to Limit Blame Over Fatal New Year Stampede


2015.01.02
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china-shanghai-stampede-jan-2015.jpg A couple place flowers at the site of the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai, Jan. 2, 2015.
AFP

China's ruling Communist Party on Friday moved to limit coverage of the fatal crush at a crowd of New-Year revelers on Shanghai's iconic Bund waterfront that left 36 people dead and at least 47 injured.

The city's propaganda department issued a notice to all China's tightly controlled media outlets ordering them to stick to the official line on the tragedy and banning them from criticizing party or government.

"All content that attacks the party, government or our social system must be resolutely deleted," the directive, leaked online and published by the overseas Chinese-language news site Boxun, said.

"It is absolutely forbidden to use any content from social media or overseas media," it said. "Please stick to the authoritative sources, which are the central government and the Shanghai municipal government."

China's central government has ordered a probe and a review of national safety standards following the incident, which occurred shortly before midnight as crowds were gathered for the annual countdown to welcome in the New Year.

According to updated government statements on Friday, 25 of those who died were women, and many of the victims were young adults and students, aged 12 to 37 years old.

Police on Friday also dismissed earlier reports, based on an alleged witness account posted on a popular Chinese social media site, that the stampede was triggered by the hurling of fake money into the crowd.

The focus has shifted to overcrowding on and around a raised viewing platform along the riverside, reports said.

Shanghai's municipal health department said that the list of those injured had risen by two since initial reports of the incident emerged, although both have since been discharged from hospitals in the city.

In all, 31 people remain in hospital after being injured, with 13 of them in a serious condition, health spokesman Wu Jinglei told reporters.

"Three or four of the seriously injured are in a particularly serious condition, but it's very hard to make an assessment of how their condition will develop," Wu said.

"All we can do is continue to treat them," he said.

Call for answers

Meanwhile, relatives of the victims have called on the government for clearer answers and more details of the stampede.

Others said they hadn't yet been allowed to visit their loved ones.

"I just want to get in there and make sure that my kid is actually being treated in there, is receiving emergency treatment," a relative of an injured victim told Hong Kong's Cable TV on Friday.

"He is still in the critical unit; even if the worst happens, I still want to be sure of it."

Many residents of Shanghai are also questioning the government's handling of the aftermath of the incident.

"There should be an inquiry, because this has involved the loss of human life," a resident surnamed Wu told RFA. "The policing and security arrangements should have been in place to deal with such a major event."

"If they had been prepared, they would have been able to keep the damage to a minimum as soon as an incident occurred," he said.

He said the authorities appeared not to have learned any lessons from similar incidents in the past.

"They should have been prepared, but they weren't, and it's their fault," Wu said.

'A wake-up call'

China's official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the fatal stampede should remind China that it is still a developing country that needs to take steps to improve its public safety record.

"Similar incidents causing heavy casualties are rare in developed countries, either stampedes, coal mine explosions or plant fire[s]," it said in an English-language editorial on Friday.

"The disaster ... served as a wake-up call that the world's second-largest economy is still a developing country which has fragile social management," it said.

Shanghai-based rights activist Feng Zhenghu said he thought the authorities reacted fairly quickly, however.

"I thought the response was pretty rapid, and they have even made public the list of victims," Feng said.

"I don't get the feeling that they are trying to cover up a few extra deaths, and there isn't any need for that," he said.

But he said someone should take responsibility for the failure to control the crowd safety.

"It's clear that there are still problems with the way that this was managed," Feng said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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