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China investigates Shanghai officials' lavish banquet before stampede

[SHANGHAI] Authorities in Shanghai are investigating allegations that officials attended an opulent riverfront banquet on New Year's Eve hours before dozens of people were trampled to death nearby, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Caixin magazine reported on Monday that district officials dined at a Japanese restaurant on the historic Bund riverfront owned by the Shanghai government, where average prices range between US$305-$628 per person.

President Xi Jinping has launched a widespread crackdown against corruption, on everything from bribery and gift-giving to lavish banquets, to assuage public anger over graft and extravagance. "The Shanghai Municipal Disciplinary Inspection Committee takes this allegation very seriously and verifies that an investigation is underway," Xinhua said late on Wednesday, quoting an unidentified committee official.

The deadly stampede happened during the annual New Year's Eve celebrations on the Bund. Most of those killed were in their 20s and another 49 were injured. Officials have come under fire for understaffing the event, which attracted massive crowds.

Xi has called for an immediate investigation into the causes of the stampede. At the same time, the Shanghai government has moved to tightly control expressions of grief and protests from victims' families.

Shanghai has cancelled a series of upcoming events, including annual Lantern Festival celebrations and a popular agricultural produce exhibition that has run for 14 years.

REUTERS