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China Suspends Official Who Allegedly Beat Flight Attendant

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- A Chinese official who allegedly beat a China Southern Airlines Co. flight attendant has been suspended, the latest in a series of incidents that state media warned could pose a credibility crisis for the government.

Fang Daguo, a Communist Party standing committee member in the Guangzhou city district of Yuexiu, allegedly grabbed and bruised the attendant Aug. 29 after she told him there was no room in the overhead bins to store his luggage, the Xinhua News Agency said. Fang and his wife, who was also involved in the dispute, “smelt strongly of alcohol” at the time, Xinhua said, citing a passenger it didn’t identify.

China’s Communist Party is seeking to get tough on corruption and other official malfeasance to burnish its legitimacy ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year. Rising anger over social and financial inequality has fueled protests among users of Chinese microblogs including Sina Corp.’s Weibo who question the government response to wrongdoing.

“The government is coming under more pressure -- the existence of Weibo is generating pressure that previously didn’t really exist,” Steven Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., said in a phone interview. “The party is itself more proactive in wanting to deal with issues like this.”

Ferrari Crash

Ling Jihua, an ally of President Hu Jintao, this week was replaced as head of the party office that oversees security of the nation’s top leaders. The move came after Ling’s son, Ling Gu, was killed in a car crash in March while driving a Ferrari in Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

The crash occurred three days after after former Politburo member Bo Xilai, whose son has been reported driving luxury cars, was ousted as Chongqing Party Secretary. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, confessed last month to murdering a British businessman out of fear he was threatening her son.

Other incidents followed. Chinese Internet users posted critical posts after photographs showed a Communist Party official, Yang Dacai, laughing and smiling at the scene of a bus crash that killed 36 people. Later online posts showed photographs of Yang wearing luxury watches and questioned where he got the money to pay for them.

“I have indeed bought five watches over the past ten-plus years,” Yang said on his verified microblog account. “These watches were bought by myself with my legitimate personal income over a period of time. I have reported to the discipline inspection department.”

Arm Bruises

The flight attendant posted photos of bruises on her arms and torn clothes on Weibo after the incident, Xinhua reported. Fang and his wife have since apologized, the news agency said.

The confrontation shows some officials are “prone to slip into a credibility crisis in the Internet era,” Xinhua said in a commentary today. “To win or lose public support seriously matters, for not only the better government-people relationship but also government’s public image.”

An initial investigation by the local government found that Fang’s wife had a brawl with the flight attendant, Xinhua said, citing the district’s publicity department. The department denied that Fang, who is also a political commissar of the Yuexiu Armed Forces Department, beat the flight attendant, Xinhua said.

That initial finding drew derision online. “This is the result?” wrote one Weibo user. “Has anyone asked if the public accepts this?”

Fang serves at a low-enough level that the government can also afford to discuss his case publicly, Tsang said. If Fang had been a high-ranking official, the story may have been scrubbed from state media and the flight attendant would have received “special attention,” he said.

“Here we’re talking about some local cadres behaving very badly,” Tsang said. “If you had a Central Committee member behaving like this you would not have the party responding the same way.”

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Michael Forsythe in Beijing at mforsythe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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