China investigates top work safety regulator after Tianjin blasts

Reuters

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Residents evacuated from their homes after last week's explosions at Binhai new district, hold placards bearing images of their damaged houses, at a rally demanding government compensation outside the venue of the government officials' news conference in Tianjin, China, August 18, 2015. The slogans on the placards read "salute to the spirit of martyrs who passed away". Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon Residents evacuated from their homes after last week's explosions at Binhai new district, hold placards bearing images of their damaged houses, at a rally demanding government compensation outside the venue of the government officials' news conference in Tianjin, China, August 18, 2015. The slogans on the placards read "salute to the spirit of martyrs who passed away". Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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Authorities are investigating the head of China's work safety regulator, the Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog said on Tuesday, a week after huge blasts in a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals killed 114 people in Tianjin.
State media said the company that operated the warehouse was not licensed to handle hazardous chemicals until two months before the explosions. Protesters have demanded compensation and mourners held memorials for victims earlier on Tuesday.
The explosions late last Wednesday in Tianjin, the world's 10th-busiest port in China's industrial northeast, forced the evacuation of thousands of people after toxic chemicals were detected in the air.
More than 700 people were injured and another 70, mostly fire fighters, are still missing. The blasts devastated a large industrial site and nearby residences nearby.
Investigators have not determined the cause of the blasts but the Tianjin disaster has deepened public concern about work safety regulations. China has struggled in recent years with incidents ranging from mining disasters to factory fires, and President Xi Jinping has vowed that authorities should learn the lessons paid for with blood.
Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, is "currently undergoing investigation" for suspected violations of party discipline and the law, China's anti-graft watchdog said in a statement on its website.
The agency is one of many government departments that regulate companies that operate with dangerous materials.
It did not give further details or mention the Tianjin blasts. It was also not possible to reach Yang, a former vice mayor of the city of 15 million people until 2012.
"People value safety"
Warehouse owner Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics did not have certification to handle dangerous goods between October 2014 and June 2015 but continued to work with hazardous chemicals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified company official.
A filing on the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) website confirmed that Ruihai Logistics did not have the correct licence during that period.
 People pay tribute to firefighters who died, marking the seventh day since the Tianjin explosions, in a mourning ceremony at Binhai new district, Tianjin, China, August 18, 2015. The death toll has risen to 114, with more than 700 people injured and another 70, mostly fire fighters, still missing. Photo: Reuters/China Daily
Ten people, including Ruihai head Yu Xuewei and deputy head Dong Shexuan, were detained last Thursday, the official People's Daily's reported on its Weibo microblog on Tuesday. It has not been possible to reach the company since Thursday.
The government has confirmed there was about 700 tons of the deadly chemical sodium cyanide in the warehouse that blew up.
Displaced residents vented their frustration at the lack of government transparency at a protest outside a 3-km (2-mile) exclusion zone earlier on Tuesday.
"Chinese people really value safety," said a man, surnamed Zhu, whose home was about a kilometre from the blast site. "Do you think if we knew there were dangerous chemicals so near we would have bought the apartment?"
Hundreds of people who lived near the blast site have demanded that the government arrange compensation or buy back their apartments.
Zong Guoying, party secretary of Tianjin's Binhai district, said a service centre had been set up for those whose houses had been damaged.
Fitch Ratings said insurance losses from the explosions could be material for Chinese insurance companies and potentially exceed $1 billion-$1.5 billion.
Several dozen nurses and other medical workers carried white flowers as they observed a period of silence outside a hospital where the injured were being treated, one of several memorials held on Tuesday.
"In life, you are not often confronted with these kinds of disasters, whether natural or man-made," said Ji Tao, a doctor. "The dead have passed away but the living are stronger."
Prosecutors in Tianjin said earlier they were investigating two senior officials from Binhai district on suspicion of corruption, although they did not specify whether the charges were linked to the blasts.

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