Saturday, 3 January 2015

Post-Stampede Control

The scene of the area after police managed to control the crowd
Shanghai got off to a horrific start to 2015 less than half an hour before midnight when people were caught in a crush on the famed Bund, resulting in 36 dead, and 49 injured. Among the victims are a Malaysian and Taiwanese, both students.

Four days later, government censors are trying to control the narrative of what happened that tragic night. That's because authorities are concerned they will be blamed for mishandling the stampede -- though the police have already admitted they underestimated the number of people who would be at the waterfront area, as the light show there was not formally endorsed by the city.

The authorities are also interrogating dozens of people who posted online comments about the stampede in an attempt to eradicate rumours and maintain social order.

People lay flowers, mourning the loss of life in Shanghai
Local and foreign media are also not allowed to speak to the victims' families, as the municipal government begins negotiating with the families about compensation, while state media are not allowed to publish photographs of people publicly mourning the victims.

And following the stampede, hundreds of paramilitary officers are patrolling Chen Yi Square -- close to the Peace Hotel -- where the incident took place, following a protest by victims' families accusing the Shanghai government of negligence.

It's interesting this delayed reaction of tightening control over the handling of the incident four days later. How things proceed from now will surely be carefully scripted, with state media probably instructed to only publish Xinhua officially-sanctioned stories.

One thing is for sure at the moment -- that heads will roll in the police department, including some Huangpu district police officers, and at least one or two city-level officials would be punished over mishandling of the incident.

Also the rumour that the stampede erupted after coupons promoting a nearby club that looked like banknotes were dropped from a nearby building was dismissed by Shanghai police, who said only a few people came to pick them up.

The 2010 fire in Shanghai that also resulted in the loss of life
Nevertheless, this incident and the handling of it by the government harks back to November 2010 when 58 people died, and more than 70 were injured when a 28-storey highrise apartment building caught on fire.

It turned out that sparks made from unlicensed welders caused the inferno, igniting the scaffolding around the building and causing its destruction. A week later financial compensation was arranged for the victims' families.

Tens of thousands of people publicly mourned the victims of the fire, and afterwards the police detained those who continued to pay homage to the burned-out site. Residents also criticized the government for censoring the media and not providing an adequate response to the fire.

Does it sound like history repeating itself four years later?

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