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China government vows to be more open after train crash backlash
BEIJING Aug 3 (Reuters) - China's ruling Communist Party has vowed to be more honest and open in the wake of a high-speed train crash that drew fierce public condemnation of official obfuscation and censorship.
The promise of greater candour, made in a government directive published in newspapers on Wednesday, swiftly drew catcalls from citizens who said it was no more than a public relations exercise.
The order did not mention the train crash on July 23 that killed at least 40 people and exposed China's one-party government to public and press accusations that railway officials hid and distorted facts about the tragedy, but it appeared partly aimed at defusing such criticism.
"Grasp the need to openly and objectively release information about developments, government efforts, measures to protect the public and the results of investigations concerning major incidents and issues of major public concern," said the document, which was printed in the official People's Daily and other newspapers.
"Swiftly, accurately and fully disclose government information that is of widespread public concern and directly affects the public's interests," it said.
"Central government issues directive on greater openness -- do you believe it? Do they believe it? I don't!", wrote one user of Sina.com's Weibo site (weibo.com), China's most popular version of Twitter, which has become a popular and combative forum for discussing the train crash and other news.
"The key will be whether this is implemented," wrote another user. "Otherwise, this will be just scrap paper."
Twitter, along with other popular international social networking sites, is blocked by China's censorship firewall.
For a week, Chinese newspapers defied censorship and pursued unusually aggressive reporting of the train crash, but censors intensified demands for media to rein in coverage. Those restrictions drew only more condemnation from Chinese Internet users this week.
China's Communist Party has repeatedly said it is becoming more open about disasters, disease outbreaks, protests and other sensitive issues. But many analysts say moves to greater transparency have been modest, and reversed when the government finds its authority at stake.
Eight years ago, then recently-appointed Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao raised their stature as new leaders by vowing greater candour and accountability after officials tried to cover up the SARS epidemic.
Yet denials continued, often followed by public outrage. In 2008 Chinese officials, fearing a scandal that would tarnish the Beijing Olympic Games, initially concealed that nearly 300,000 children had been poisoned by drinking powdered milk laced with an industrial compound. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Additional reporting by Sabrina Mao; Editing by Ken Wills and Daniel Magnowski)
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