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133 Officials Punished for Serious Accidents
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Following a host of industrial accidents in April, authorities yesterday handed down punishments to scores of officials and businessmen involved in five mining and traffic accidents that led to the deaths of 249 people.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Li Yizhong, minister of State Administration of Work Safety, said that negligence, cover-ups, bribery and other acts of corruption by the 133 officials and executives held responsible for the five accidents also caused 95.1 million yuan (US$12.4 million) in economic losses.

For example, the gas explosion in Tangshan, Hebei Province, in December 2005, which cost 108 lives and caused 48 million yuan in economic losses could have been avoided if the unlicensed mine had been properly supervised, Li said.

"The five accidents mentioned in today's announcement inflicted huge losses and exerted an awful impact, leaving heartbreaking lessons paid for in blood and lives," Li said.

Chen Cangzhi, vice-minister of supervision, said at the press conference that of the 133 people named, 51 were facing criminal charges. The remaining 82 were given Party or administrative penalties.

Of the 27 officials removed from office, six held positions at the prefecture level and 42 at county level.

Corruption and trading power for money have become the focus of our investigations, Chen said.

The announcement of yesterday's punishments came at a time when the country is experiencing a rebound in the number of industrial accidents, fuelled by an escalating demand for energy as the economy continues to expand.

Despite a clampdown on illegal industrial activities, the 20-percent rise in fixed asset investment in coal-consuming industries contributed to the 33-percent surge in the number of accidents in April compared with last year, Li said.

On Saturday, a blast at the Pudeng coal mine in Shanxi killed 28.

Its owner, who has since been detained, is said to have cheated inspection officials by showing them only that part of the mine that adhered to work safety rules.

Li, who is the public face of the government's anti-accident campaign, said the rules so often ignored by mine owners obsessed with profits should be more strictly enforced.

A new rule on the handling of accidents, which comes into effect next month, will form part of a national policy on the punishments to be issued for cover-ups, dereliction of duty and fraud, Li said.

He said several State Council and ministerial-level rules and judicial interpretations had already been put in place to punish those responsible for such accidents.

(China Daily May 11, 2007)

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