Crowd gathers to mourn fire victims

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2012, 12:00am


A large crowd gathered in the centre of Jixian county, Tianjin , yesterday to mourn the victims of a deadly fire that engulfed a department store last Saturday - amid growing suspicions that the true death toll has been covered up.

Witnesses said that more than 1,000 people, including activists from outside Tianjin, responded to an anonymous online call for a gathering at Gulou Square at 3pm yesterday, the seventh day after the blaze and in Chinese tradition the most important day for mourning.

However, police quickly moved to disperse the crowd and no ceremonies were observed. A loudspeaker repeatedly warned those in the square to disperse, a witness said.

Shops on the square were ordered to close by police. Pictures taken at the scene posted on Sina Weibo, the mainland's most popular microblog service, were soon deleted.

The fire swept through the five-storey Laide Commercial Mall - the biggest department store in the county in the northern part of the northeastern municipality - on June 30. The authorities reported that 10 people had died and 16 were injured, but the death toll was questioned.

The Beijing News reported that the store had been crowded because of a weekend promotion campaign, and that some customers trapped above the third floor had jumped. There has been speculation on the internet that hundreds of people died, while, a news portal in Shanghai, reported that the store owner had ordered shutters pulled down to prevent customers leaving before paying their bills.

A report briefly posted on people., the official website of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said that 24 hours after the fire, there were still people looking for missing family members, and journalists who interviewed them were followed by security personnel. The report was quickly deleted.

The local government's microblog yesterday listed the names, ages and occupations of the 10 victims - nine staff and one customer.

But the questions continued. One of the nearly 8,000 comments on the microblog read: 'We should be facing instead of hiding the truth.'