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Xi calls for severe penalties as scores die in factory blast

Bloomberg Beijing

CHINA’S President Xi Jinping has demanded harsh punishment for those responsible for an explosion at the weekend at a vehicle parts factory that killed 71 people and injured 186 in China’s deadliest industrial disaster of the year.

Medical staff move a victim of an explosion at an eastern Chinese automotive parts factory. Credit: Associated Press

Xi sent a team headed by Wang Yong, one of China’s five state councillors, to oversee rescue work and investigate the accident at the plant near Shanghai owned by Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday, citing a government statement. General Motors (GM) confirmed that the company produced parts for Dicastal, a global supplier to the US-based car maker.

The incident underscores calls by Premier Li Keqiang for safety improvements at industrial facilities in China, the second-largest economy. A fire at a poultry plant in the north-eastern province of Jilin in June last year left 120 people dead, and an explosion at a China Petroleum & Chemical pipeline in Qingdao in November last year killed 62 people.

China had 19 serious safety incidents in the first six months of this year, leaving more than 200 people dead or missing, Xinhua said on its microblog. Li ordered safety checks to prevent further disasters, and Xi called for those responsible to face unspecified severe punishment, the agency reported.

Initial investigations indicated that the explosion at the factory in Kunshan was caused by sparks that ignited dust in a wheel-hub polishing workshop where about 200 people were working at about 7.30am local time, China Central Television reported, citing the local government, adding that five executives from Zhongrong had been detained.

The plant, about 50km west of Shanghai, employs 450 people, according to the company’s website. Its operations include plating and polishing of metal parts such as wheel hubs, and customers include GM.

The US vehicle manufacturer confirmed that Zhongrong was an indirect supplier. GM said it had sufficient inventory of parts and did not expect any impact on production.

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