Top Chinese safety official held over Tiajnin blasts

2015-08-18 17:26
Residents of the Harbour City apartment complex light candles at a memorial near their building for victims of the Tianjin blasts. (Paul Traynor, AP)

Residents of the Harbour City apartment complex light candles at a memorial near their building for victims of the Tianjin blasts. (Paul Traynor, AP)

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Beijing - China's top workplace safety official was detained over corruption allegations on Tuesday, nearly a week after fatal explosions in Tianjin city, where he was a former senior official.

Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, was suspected of "severe violation of discipline and law", a Communist Party disciplinary committee said, using a phrase often employed in corruption cases.

Yang had long standing links to the chemicals industry and city government in the north-eastern port city, where a fire and explosions on Wednesday left at least 114 people dead.

Beijing earlier pledged to crack down on top officials connected to the disaster.

Yang's career includes two years as deputy general manager of the United Chemicals Company, as well as six years as vice mayor and five as senior vice mayor of Tianjin.

China's cabinet, the State Council, announced on Tuesday that an investigation would be led by the executive vice minister of Public Security.

Ten top executives of the private company at the centre of last week's massive chemical blasts have also been detained, Chinese media reported on Tuesday.

Three of them - Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics Company president Li Liang, vice president Cao Haijun and chief financial officer Song Qi - have been in detention since August 13, Caijing financial magazine reported.

The four-year-old Tianjin company started operating its hazardous chemicals warehouse before it obtained a license, The Beijing News reported last week in a quickly deleted article.

Ruihai was licensed to store a total of 10 tons of sodium cyanide at the facility, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported.

The company stashed 700 tons of the deadly chemical in wooden and metal containers 600m from the nearest residential complex. There are also 20 residential compounds within a 3km-range, including a kindergarten, Caijing reported.

Despite media reports that national regulations require a minimum distance of 1km, an investigation by China News Weekly concluded there was no such enforceable policy in practice.

The son of a former port city police chief is suspected of being a Ruihai shareholder, Caijing also reported.

The magazine cited a police officer at the Tianjin port police saying although Chief Dong Peijun died last year, his son Dong Mengmeng was a company shareholder "for some time in the past".

'White powder'

There were numerous social media reports of white powder in the air and white foam on the ground after rain fell early on Tuesday, the first since last week's explosions.

The Global Times reported white powder "everywhere" around the explosion site on its blog.

"After the showers, there is white foam floating on the road," it said. "Citizens say that there is this kind of white powder on their cars when they are washing their cars."

"Meanwhile, people who work outside also have this similar white powder in their nostrils."

Many posts were quickly deleted from China's highly censored Twitter-like microblog service Weibo.

The official Beijing Times reported a "huge amount of abnormal white foam on the road" after the rain.

"Bao Jingling, chief engineer of the environmental protection bureau, said the best way is to get far away from polluted residue near the blast point," the post said.

Ceremonies were held on Tuesday to mourn those who died in the blasts. Firefighters, police, soldiers and officials stood in silence with bowed heads in a traditional ceremony to remember the dead.

Cargo ships sounded horns in respect at the world's 10th-busiest container port.

Seventy people are still missing, including 64 firefighters and five policemen, Xinhua news agency reported.

Officials have assured the public that the air and water in and around the blast zone still meets safety standards, six days after the blasts.

Specialists cleared about 150 tons of dangerous chemicals scattered within a radius of 3km around the blast site by Monday night, said Tianjin Deputy Mayor He Shushan.

Large quantities of sodium cyanide were among the chemicals found around the blast area.

Sodium cyanide is highly toxic, and in contact with water releases hydrogen cyanide gas, which is toxic and flammable.

About 3 000 tons of hazardous chemicals were stored at the warehouse, Niu Yueguang, deputy director of the fire department of the Public Security Ministry told China Central Television. These included - in addition to the reported 700 tons of sodium cyanide - 800 tons of ammonium nitrate and 500 tons of potassium nitrate, both of which are used in fertilisers and explosives.

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