Officials 'fled fire, leaving children to die'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am

BUREAUCRACY and 'formalism' were partly responsible for the deaths of almost 400 people, mostly schoolchildren, in a fire in a remote oil town in northwestern Xinjiang, an official Chinese newspaper said.

In a commentary yesterday, the Beijing-based Economic Reference reported that 'bureaucratic cadres who adored formalities' might be indirectly responsible for the deaths.

The fire raged through the Friendship Hall cinema in Karamay, Xinjiang, on December 8 when it was packed with more than 700 people, including at least 500 schoolchildren.

A special cultural show was being presented by the children, described as the cream of local students, for a visiting education inspection team.

The 25-strong team was in Karamay to assess the seriousness of illiteracy and promote voluntary education in the area.

The latest death toll puts the number killed at 385, including more than 330 children.

'But the 25 education officials were apparently not among the dead and injured. They remained safe and nobody knew what they had done after the fire had broken out,' Economic Reference said.

Another Beijing newspaper had reported that top local and provincial cadres had fled as the fire engulfed the single-storey building, 'leaving the children to perish'.

One report said the children were ordered to stay seated in the crucial minutes before the blaze took hold.

Economic Reference condemned the local Government for adopting 'unnecessary formalism' to satisfy the officials' bureaucratic manner.

'All the schools and relevant departments in the town were busy receiving the inspection team,' Economic Reference said.

'The cultural show was hosted by the authorities to impress the education officials.

'This was in the hope that they would give the green light and let the town pass the assessment.' The commentary advocated harsh punishment to be imposed on the 19 officials who were held responsible for the deaths.

The officials, many from the municipal Government, were reprimanded, demoted, removed from their jobs or expelled from the party.

'This fire is not only a natural disaster but also a tragedy caused by human mistakes.

'Those officials should be dealt with harshly.

'The activities of the inspection team are a manifestation of bureaucracy and formalism. We should ban all these activities for good,' the publication said.