Latest fire in Beijing kills five despite safety blitz

A migrant worker vacating his home walks past a banner declaring a building to be a fire hazard in Beijing on Dec 4. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING (Reuters) - A fire in a southern neighbourhood of the Chinese capital Beijing early on Wednesday (Dec 13) killed five people, the government said, just weeks after another deadly blaze in the city prompted a crackdown against migrant workers sparking widespread anger.

The Beijing fire service said in a short statement the fire in a house in Baiqiangzi village was caused by an electric bike. It said eight people were injured and taken to hospital.

The statement gave no other details.

Beijing's municipal government launched a 40-day "special operation" targeting fire code and building safety violations last month after a Nov 18 apartment fire in another southern part of the city killed 19, almost all of them migrants.

The city-wide fire safety blitz has forced thousands of migrant workers out of their homes and businesses, igniting unusually direct criticism of city government measures seen by some people as unfairly targeting the vulnerable underclass.

In an apparent effort to address those concerns, Beijing's Communist Party chief Cai Qi has visited migrant workers, telling them the city cannot do without their hard work, the official Beijing Daily said on Wednesday.

"Our city needs sanitation, cleaning, security, logistics, housekeeping, courier, catering and other ordinary workers," the paper cited Cai as saying.

"Whether in city operations or normal daily life, we can't do without them." Companies in all sectors in Beijing rely on migrant workers and they have used their sweat to contribute to the city's development, Cai added.

"We need to give these workers full respect and show even more care and love for them, work hard to address their hardships and anxieties, to give them a sense of belonging," he said.

The government has come under increasing pressure in the wake of the crackdown on migrant workers, including sporadic protests and an open letter from more than 100 prominent academics, lawyers and intellectuals denouncing the steps.

Such open criticism of government is increasingly rare as officials have clamped down on various aspects of civil society under President Xi Jinping.

Some non-profit groups that sought to offer assistance said they have been obstructed by police, with their online advertisements blocked by censors.

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