12/07/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Sacked official "found dead" after Jilin blast

The city's vice-mayor, who was responsible for environmental protection, "was found dead yesterday". He was one of three officials sacked in the wake of the explosion at the plant and the pollution of the Songhua River. Meanwhile, the toxic benzene slick is working its way towards Russia, which has charged: "Only scarce attention is paid the environment in China".

Jilin (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Wang Wei, vice mayor and environment chief of Jilin city was found dead yesterday in his residence. "We don't know any more about his death but the police are investigating," a spokesman for the local communist party said.

Wang was one of three high-ranking officials sacked on 5 December because of the explosion on 13 November at Jilin's petrochemical plant. The three were accused of "bad management" of the plant and held to be responsible for the blast which killed five people and discharged over 100 tons of poisonous chemical products into the Songua River, a crucial drinking water supply.

On 2 December, Xie Zhenhua , director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) was also dismissed. He was held accountable for bad management of the emergency which followed the blast. SEPA was immediately informed about the environmental damage but contributed to covering it up for days. Official sources have announced further possible measures against managers of the PetroChina Company (which owns the plant) or against the Jilin government.

According to Liu Xutao, an expert at the State School of Administration in Beijing, the sackings reflected the central government's awareness of public anger over frequent industrial accidents. However many experts are wondering what precautions will be put in place to prevent further environmental disasters.

The polluted oil slick in the Songhua River – which is now about 150km long – yesterday reached the city of Jiamusi, with some 550,000 residents; the water supply there has been shut down "as a precaution" since last week. The benzene is still 300km away from the Russian border which should not be reached for a week yet because of ice which formed on the river surface, slowing down the benzene's progress. In Siberia's Habarovsk, which has 580,000 residents, there are plans to shut down the water supply for three days.

"Quickly developing countries such as neighbouring China demand careful attention," Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev said yesterday. "In fact, swift economic growth is frequently achieved due to a scornful attitude to ecology by unqualified personnel."

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