SHANGHAI - Four local officials in Shanghai have been sacked over a New Year's Eve crush on the waterfront Bund that killed 36 people, 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, with severe overcrowding raising questions about why authorities failed to enforce stronger safety measures.
Four district officials in Huangpu, where the accident took place, had been relieved of their Communist Party and government posts, Shanghai officials told a news conference.
Those dismissed include the area's party chief Zhou Wei and local government head Peng Song, The two were among several officials who went for an expensive restaurant dinner 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 dinner sparked widespread outrage online.
Authorities imposed lesser, administrative penalties on seven others, including district officials and Shanghai police, a government statement said.
"The December 31 incident is one that should not have happened and could have been completely avoided," vice mayor Zhou Bo told the news conference, the first open to foreign media since the incident.
Officials laid the blame largely on Huangpu district, though they said other government departments shared responsibility for oversight.
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.
"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."
The announcement followed the conclusion of an official report on the accident, based on an investigation carried out over three weeks by Shanghai itself and invited experts.
The news conference, which took place under heavy police security, did not address the issue of compensation for the families of the victims.
Fan Ping, who lost her husband Du Shuanghua, said higher-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.