Beijing orders probe into fatal New Year countdown party

Beijing orders probe into fatal New Year countdown party
A view of the stampede during the New Year celebration in Shanghai’s Bund district. Eyewitnesses said mayhem broke out after people dashed for fake cash thrown from a nearby building.

Troubling questions over the meltdown of a New Year party in Shanghai’s downtown Bund district have prompted Chinese leaders to demand a full investigation into the fatal stampede which killed at least 36 people and injured 47 others.

The Shanghai authorities said the probe will examine two allegations: that the stampede occurred after revellers dashed for fake money thrown from a nearby building, or that panic erupted after some partygoers were found carrying knives.

Shanghai has cancelled all New Year celebration events after the stampede, one of the worst public incidents in China.

Officials have been instructed to provide assistance to survivors and grieving families, and to ensure the investigation is done thoroughly.

“During the upcoming Chinese New Year period, many places will hold public events with large crowds. We need to make public safety the top priority, ensure meticulous organisation and adequate safety preparations to prevent similar incidents,” said President Xi Jinping yesterday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Those killed included 25 women, with many already dead before reaching hospitals. Ten have been identified and were aged between 16 and 36, reported Chinese media.

Among the 47 injured, seven have been discharged while 13 suffered serious injuries. The injured included three Taiwanese and one Malaysian. No Singaporeans were among the casualties.

Tragedy struck at around 11.35pm on Wednesday at the waterfront Chen Yi Square and the surrounding areas where some 150,000 people reportedly had gathered to welcome 2015.

Some eyewitnesses said mayhem occurred after many rushed for vouchers that looked like American currency notes thrown down from the nearby Bund No. 18 building, located along the adjacent Nanjing East Road.

Chinese media and netizens yesterday zeroed in on a female blogger as the possible culprit. She had allegedly boasted about how she was going to “throw money away” in a posting made at 11.30pm and stamped with the Bund No. 18 location, just before the tragedy struck.

The blogger denied throwing the fake money in a later post. “I’ve reported to the police and hope they will return us justice! I’m stressing: Do not harass my family and friends,” she wrote.

Chinese media and netizens have also criticised the Shanghai authorities for inadequate planning and safety measures as word emerged that an annual 3D laser show had been cancelled recently owing to crowd control concerns.

Many partygoers did not know about the cancellation or did not believe it when told by police officers, according to eyewitnesses.

Observers said the tragedy could add political pressure upon Shanghai party boss Han Zheng, 60, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo who was deemed lucky by some to have survived the fallout when his former boss and then Shanghai chief Chen Liangyu was toppled in 2006 over corruption charges.

Mr Han and Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong rushed to the hospitals at around 3am and met survivors and families.

Hong Kong-based political analyst Joseph Cheng thinks the incident would be seen as an embarrassment to the top leadership, on a night when Mr Xi pledged to improve the lives of the Chinese in his televised message.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 02, 2015.
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