Li Keqiang

Deadly fires stoked by social tensions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2007, 12:00am

Revenge attacks and poor safety measures kill hundreds of people each year

The mainland has a history of disastrous fires and explosions. The latest, at a karaoke hall in Liaoning province, is far from the worst, despite the cost in human lives.

The causes range from accidents to arson by people with grievances.

Explosives are widely available for industrial use - such as mining - as are various types of fuel which could be used to make bombs.

Authorities have not determined the cause of the explosion and fire at the Tianying Karaoke Hall in Liaoning's Benxi county on Wednesday.

The China News Service quoted Liaoning party chief Li Keqiang as saying anyone found responsible would be harshly punished.

The explosion killed at least 25 people, flattened a two-storey building and caused extensive damage to neighbouring buildings.

The mainland has witnessed an increase in violence in recent years as aggrieved parties seek justice by taking matters into their own hands. Two decades of economic reforms have brought wealth, but also have created a vast income disparity between the haves and have-nots.

Some seek revenge against the government for what they see as unfair treatment. The government, keen to protect social stability, has urged greater efforts to prevent such crimes.

In one of the mainland's the worst fires in the past decade, a blaze at a disco in Luoyang, Henan province, killed at least 309 people on Christmas Day in 2000.

In March 2001, a deaf man and his accomplices set off explosions at four residential buildings in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, killing at least 108 people.

The ringleader held a grudge against his neighbours and relatives.

The mainland had 1,812 known cases of arson in the first three months of the year, killing 76 and injuring 24.

Blocked fire exits and badly maintained equipment are common, pushing casualties higher.

Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang told a national conference on rural law and order yesterday that local cadres must try their utmost to defuse social crises and mediate disputes so that rural residents 'would have no grudges and live happily and contentedly'.

Public Security Vice-Minister Liu Jinguo said rural officials would be required to spend a month 'surveying all potential dangers' in the countryside.

Specifically, cadres would be asked to report on fugitives who were on the run, local triads, criminal gangs who engaged in human trafficking and the abduction of women and children.

Ouyang Song, the deputy head of the party Central Committee's Organisation Department, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that rural cadres who failed to improve security would lose their jobs or miss out on promotions.

The conference highlighted the leadership's fears that chaos and crime could erupt in rural areas where police control is weak.