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Shanghai police admit underestimating crowd on NYE

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The number of injured from the Shanghai New Year’s Eve crush increased to 49, with 36 people dead, after city police said they underestimated the size of the crowd, news reports said Friday.

“Police failed to expect the number of people for this event,” Shanghai’s Huangpu branch police deputy commander Cai Lixin was quoted as saying by by the China News Service.

Crowds were larger and police fewer than at year’s October 1 national holiday celebrations, he told reporters late Thursday.

Around 100,000 to 150,000 people gathered at Shanghai’s waterfront to ring in the New Year, according to media estimates. Officials declined to give a figure.

Police said the crowd was “increasing irregularly” at 11:30 pm, and Cai expressed regret for their failure to intervene effectively. He did not state how many officers were on duty.

About 500 police were mobilized when surveillance cameras showed a passageway near Chen Yi Square had become congested, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Because the crowd was so large, it took police longer than usual, about 5-8 minutes, to get to the scene, Cai said.

Police forced their way to the centre of the crowd and found people in “physical discomfort,” he said.

A dozen police officers helped evacuate the injured after the crush and cleared a passage for ambulances, said Wang Qiang, another policeman at the press conference.

Dollar-style paper coupons thrown from a nearby nightclub, originally blamed for sparking a frenzy, did not cause the tragedy, Shanghai police said Thursday.

Video surveillance showed a few people stooping to pick up the paper, but without any stampede, the police said on Weibo, a microblogging site similar to Twitter.

The coupons were tossed into the air around 60 metres from the deadly crush, but at least 15 minutes after the incident began.

But the flyers did at least add to the chaos, one witness told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Shanghai organised gala shows for previous New Year’s countdowns, with a strong police presence to control the crowds.

This year’s show was cancelled amid concerns of increasing crowd numbers, Xinhua said.

Asked why the crowds were not kept away, Cai said, “The Bund [waterfront] is a public area. Numbers cannot be limited except in emergency situations.

“That would also need to be announced in advance to the public.”

The China National Tourism Administration on Thursday demanded that tourist spots across the nation introduce improve their crowd-control measures. SAPA

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