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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 13:40 GMT
China punishes river's polluters
Harbin resident
More than 3 million Harbin residents were left without fresh water
China has punished officials responsible for a toxic river spill which threatened the water supplies of millions of people in China and Russia.

An explosion at a PetroChina chemical plant in Jilin province in November 2005 caused about 100 tonnes of benzene to enter the Songhua river.

Administrative punishments were handed down to the province's state environment protection chief as well as senior PetroChina executives.

No criminal charges have been brought.

Water supplies to 3.8 million people in China's north-eastern Harbin city were cut off for five days after the leak.

'Administrative punishment'

Duan Wende, the vice president of the China National Petroleum Corp, which owns PetroChina, received an "administrative demerit" from China's state council, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The director of the Jilin provincial environmental protection department Wang Liying received a major demerit which could result in demotion or removal from office.

Other PetroChina employees, including the general manager of the Jilin branch of the company and the plant manager, also received administrative punishments.

Such punishments in China usually damage officials' chances of promotion and put an end to political careers.

Earlier this week a state council investigation chaired by premier Wen Jiabao promised "severe punishments" for those responsible for the Songhua spill.

In December the head of China's environmental agency Xie Zhenhua resigned over the toxic leak.

Analysts suggest that the punishments are part of the Chinese government's attempts to improve the country's reputation for tackling industrial pollution, and for making officials more accountable.

Polluted water is a growing problem for the rapidly industrialising country.

Correspondents say that 300 million people in China do not have access to safe drinking water.

In July Chinese authorities pledged to spend 1.4 trillion Yuan ($175bn) over the next five years to improve water quality, and cut air and land pollution.

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22 Dec 05 |  Europe

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