36 die in New Year stampede

Shanghai :  At least 36 people, including 25 women, were trampled to death and 48 others injured at the iconic waterfront area in China’s financial hub when New Year revellers apparently rushed to pick up fake dollar bills causing a massive stampede.

While the police disputed this version, some witnesses and the state media said the stampede was at least partially caused when merrymakers tried picking up coupons that looked like dollar bills thrown from a bar in a building. The coupons looked like a USD 100 banknote with “M18” printed in the middle, a reference to the bar of the same name in the area. Phone calls to the bar were hung up after getting through, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It was the worst disaster in the cosmopolitan city since 58 died in an apartment building fire in 2010.

After the stampede, foreign media was forbidden from attending a police press conference, underscoring government sensitivity about any critical coverage of disasters.

Shanghai merrymakers were in a rush to pick up coupons that looked like US Dollar 100 bills

A video of the tragedy released by state-run CCTV showed thousands jostling to enter a narrow building to watch a live show not heeding to desperate collective shouts from a group of people from the balcony to move away to ease the situation. Witnesses said a large number of people rushed upstairs while those already there began moving down through narrow steps. An injured person said as a result, those moving up fell down, causing a huge pile of people that led to heavy casualties.

Those who fell were trampled on by others in panic.

Now, questions are being raised about poor preparations by the police as over three lakh people attended New Year festivities last year at the same venue, creating a nightmarish security scenario. The stampede was a “wake-up call that the world’s second-largest economy is still a developing country which has fragile social management, Xinhua said in an unusually critical commentary.

K J M Varma

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