BEIJING, JUNE 6 -- Chinese authorities, in a rare display of public criticism, today fired the forestry minister for "serious dereliction of duty and bureaucratic mismanagement" in connection with the biggest forest fire in communist China's history, the official New China News Agency reported.
The decision to remove Yang Zhong from his post, which he had held since May 1982, was made at a meeting of the government's State Council today, the news agency reported.
This is believed to be the first time in communist China that authorities have publicly held a minister accountable for a specific mistake and then publicized his firing, according to a knowledgeable Chinese source.
In the past, reasons for dismissals of senior government officials have not been given. Beijing made public the Jan. 16 firing of Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang in the wake of student demonstrations, but the official communique did not give details of Hu's errors or his "self-criticism."
In today's meeting, the council decided that "leading officials of the Forestry Ministry shouldered the unshirkable responsibility for the fire," the news agency said. After the fire broke out, Yang failed to make any self-criticism, according to the news agency.
The fire, in northern Heilongjiang province, began May 6 and lasted until June 2. According to Chinese officials, more than 50,000 people were left homeless and 193 were killed.
The dismissal led the evening news on the state-run television and excerpts of the State Council meeting were broadcast in a special program after the news.
The news said Yang, 55, endorsed the State Council's decision.
The Soviet Union's decision to fire its defense minister and air defense chief after a West German pilot landed in Red Square last Monday may also have pressured Beijing to act, according to one source. Many Chinese have privately criticized the firefighting effort.