Shanghai cancels iconic lantern festival after New Year stampede

A light show before the stampede occurred at the New Year's celebration on the Bund on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A light show before the stampede occurred at the New Year's celebration on the Bund on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China's cosmopolitan financial centre of Shanghai has cancelled a two-decade old lantern festival held at its central Yu Garden, over safety concerns sparked by a New Year's Eve stampede that led to the deaths of 36 people.

The official response to the tragedy, the city's worst loss of life since 2010, has drawn global attention, with critics saying it could tarnish Shanghai's reputation and set at risk an ambition to become a world financial centre by 2020.

"In the consideration of safety, management and other factors, Yuyuan Tourist Mart has decided to cancel the 2015 Yu Garden Lantern Festival," the company that organises the event said on its website on Saturday.

The Yu Garden, an ancient complex of walkways, gardens and water features, is just a few hundred metres from the riverfront Bund, the site of the stampede.

The annual lantern festival drew some 600,000 domestic and foreign visitors in 2013, official media said.

There have been concerns over authorities' heavy-handed response to the stampede, with families of the victims saying police had pressured them not to air grievances and had tried to stop them talking to the press.

The Shanghai government's response to the stampede was "troubling", the state-run China Daily said in an editorial last week, adding that the cancellation of events such as the Yu Garden festival pointed to a lack of confidence.

Earlier this month, Guyi Garden, another popular tourist site, cancelled its lantern festival event over safety concerns, the Shanghai city government said on its official microblog.

Police are still investigating the cause of the stampede.