Protests have erupted in the Chinese city of Tianjin, as family members of the missing and those made homeless demanded answers from the government following last week’s deadly explosions at an industrial site.
An estimated 400 people gathered for “spontaneous protests” in the port city on Monday, a rare occurrence in the communist state.
The death toll from the explosions has now risen to 114, with dozens still missing.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Tianjin, said that dozens of soldiers looked on as the protesters gathered, making no attempt to stop them, nor the local journalists covering the event.
“China’s government is normally uneasy about even small, spontaneous protests. It’s very rare for authorities to allow this to happen,” he said.
Our correspondent also said that protesters have been careful to hold aloft other banners “proclaiming their support” for the communist party.
Residents said they were not aware that dangerous chemicals were being stored in the port.
Chinese state-run media have also lambasted officials for a lack of transparency over the massive explosions.
The editorials and commentary pieces published on Monday echoed frustrations voiced by the public over the slow release of information in the aftermath of the August 12 explosions.
Chinese authorities have moved to limit criticism of the handling of the blasts by suspending or shutting down dozens of websites and hundreds of social media accounts.
‘Slow government reaction’
Mainstream media outlets – which in China are effectively controlled by the authorities – condemned local officials’ lack of transparency, saying it could reflect badly on the government.
“During the first dozens of hours after the blasts, there was scant information offered by Tianjin authorities,” the Global Times tabloid said in an editorial.
“Tianjin is not an exceptional case in terms of the inadequate disaster-response work,” the paper, which has close ties to the ruling Communist Party, wrote.
“Making some efforts to respond to reporters should become routine if local governments encounter a major event in future.
“A single slow reaction can lead to rumours running riot. And in turn, public confidence in the government will continue to fall.”
The government-published China Daily, meanwhile, noted that “many questions… remain to be answered” over the blasts, which triggered a days-long fire and fears over potential toxic contamination from pollutants being stored at the blast site.
“Not surprisingly, the lack of verified information has resulted in conspiracy theories emerging,” it wrote.
But not all papers were so critical.
The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, said critics “should know that doubts and concerns were baseless and unnecessary”.
“Public opinion should also understand the government’s cautiousness and earnestness,” it wrote. “Questioning and denying are not a rational attitude.”
Authorities in Tianjin have faced criticism over failing to uphold regulations surrounding the site’s operation, notably requirements that warehouses stocking dangerous materials be at least one kilometre from surrounding public buildings and main roads.
Al Jazeera’s Brown said the latest incident has placed renewed attention on China’s “appalling safety record” in areas of industrial safety.
“This is the 12th incident involving chemicals in China this year. And the sad thing is, people are no longer surprised by events like this.The question is whether things would be different this time in terms of the investigation that has now begun.”