Government probe puts CCTV in hot water

Senior government officials 'very concerned'

BEIJING -- The hot water surrounding China Central Television started to boil this week as China's Cabinet called for a new investigation into the deadly fire that destroyed the hotel on the state broadcaster's new compound.

The blaze that gutted the nearly completed 5 billion yuan ($731 million) Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Feb. 9 killed one firefighter and left a charred eyesore next to the broadcaster's new Rem Koolhass-designed headquarters, scheduled to open later this year.

The fire "caused great damage, about which leading central government comrades were very concerned," said Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety.

The cabinet investigation will build on an earlier probe by the Beijing city government and deal with those responsible, Huang said in a statement posted to the administration's Web site late Wednesday.

Historically, investigations ordered from high up in China's communist government indicate a high level of political sensitivity and embarrassment at the loss of life or state resources.

A dozen people were arrested in March in connection with the fire set off by illegal fireworks on the roof of the 30-story hotel, a display paid for by CCTV to mark the end of the Lunar New Year festivities.

Among those arrested and facing up to seven years in prison were Xu Wei, the former head of CCTV's construction bureau, and eight employees of the Sanxiang fireworks company from south Hunan province.

News reports have alleged that 50-year-old Xu ordered that powerful pyrotechnics be used and ignored safety warnings. Respected business magazine Caijing earlier reported multiple conflicts of interest involving companies run by or related to Xu, including the building's construction firm.

Since apologizing for the disaster, CCTV has done little follow-up reporting and employees say they have been told not to discuss it.

In an interview with the Xinhua news agency, Huang said the administration would set up a public work safety complaints hotline, investigate accidents and report progress to the public through the media as soon as possible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.