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'Jiabao goes to train crash scene'

China's premier Wen Jiabao travelled today to the scene of a deadly train crash that has sparked public fury and triggered fears over the safety of the country's rapidly expanding high-speed network.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2011 09:11 IST

China's premier Wen Jiabao travelled on Thursday to the scene of a deadly train crash that has sparked public fury and triggered fears over the safety of the country's rapidly expanding high-speed network.

Wen will inspect the scene of China's worst rail accident since 2008 and meet relatives of the 39 people killed in the collision late on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

His visit comes amid mounting public anger over the official response to the disaster, which also injured nearly 200 people and was the worst ever to hit China's rapidly expanding high-speed rail network.

On Wednesday, Wen ordered an "open and transparent" investigation into the accident, saying the results must be made public, as the government tries to assuage mounting public fury over the crash.

As head of the government, Wen, a popular figure with China's masses, regularly makes highly publicised visits to sites of deadly disasters.

Officials with the Shanghai Railway Bureau on Thursday told investigators that "design flaws" in signalling equipment were to blame for the accident, Xinhua said.

The system "failed to turn the green light into red" after being struck by lightning, it quoted An Lusheng, head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, as saying, in the first public admission that the Chinese-made system was at fault.

The accident has raised questions over whether safety concerns may have been overlooked in China's rush to build the world's biggest high-speed rail system in just four years.

Three senior railway officials have already been fired over the disaster, and Beijing has ordered an "urgent overhaul" of national rail safety.

But that has done little to calm the furious response from the public and the media.

Anger over the disaster has been compounded in recent days by allegations that authorities tried to cover up evidence by burying the wreckage, although officials said this was to help rescuers access the crash site.

Thousands of people have posted on China's hugely popular micro-blogs, demanding to know why the driver of the second train, who was killed in the accident, was not told to stop in time.

They also question whether the death toll might be higher than authorities have said, and whether the nation's high-speed rail system is being developed too fast.

Some relatives of the victims, who include two Americans and an Italian, have reportedly refused compensation and demanded instead to be given answers.

The Chinese media have reportedly been ordered not to question the official line on the accident, but several newspapers have published editorials criticising the railway ministry.

In an unusually scathing editorial published in both its English and Chinese versions, the state-run Global Times on Wednesday contrasted the "bureaucratic" attitude of officials with a booming "public democracy" on the Internet.

"They (authorities) have become accustomed to only being praised in the past and when facing a crisis, they believe they can deal with the public in a bureaucratic way," said the paper.

"However, public opinion in China cannot stand this any more."

First Published: Jul 28, 2011 09:09 IST