Chat rooms abuzz with criticism of authorities' role in festival disaster

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 2004, 12:00am

Web surfers using internet message boards said officials and planners of the disastrous Miyun Lantern Festival had blood on their hands and demanded that heads roll.

'This is a lesson paid with blood ... the organisers and local government cannot shirk their responsibilities,' said one statement posted on the comment page of the Xinhua website. It was a sentiment echoed by many others.

Along with the internet chat room of Tsinghua University in Beijing, the government news agency website was one of the few electronic forums that had no controls on discussions yesterday.

Censors at the popular Web portals and blocked any such comments. Another statement posted on Xinhua's website claimed the government had been ill-prepared for the crowds that had gathered. It also said police had failed to issue safety warnings or establish pedestrian corridors.

'At such a large public event, there should have been a limit on the number of people allowed to participate,' one person wrote.

Surfers on the Tsinghua site said Beijing's acting mayor, Wang Qishan, had failed in his duty.

Mr Wang and Beijing Party chief Liu Qi rushed to the scene of the tragedy late on Thursday to direct rescue and investigation efforts.

Mr Wang was summoned from Hainan last spring to take the helm in the capital after his predecessor, Meng Xuenong, was fired for mistakes in handling the 2003 Sars crisis.

Tsinghua surfers accused Mr Wang - who was on television yesterday emphasising the seriousness of the accident - of merely 'putting on a show'.

Despite the tirades, some surfers acknowledged the disaster was partly the result of the crowd's panic.

Witnesses said the stampede was started by a person falling down, igniting a domino effect of collapsing bodies.

'The tragedy not only showed there was a lack of safety preparations, but our compatriots have a problem when they are massed together in large groups,' one message said.