BEIJING (AFP) — The governor of north China's Shanxi province stepped down Sunday over a landslide that killed at least 254, the second time he has fallen from grace over a major scandal.
The resignation of 59-year-old Meng Xuenong, who previously was forced out of his job as mayor of Beijing over the SARS debacle, was accepted by the Shanxi provincial legislature Sunday afternoon, Xinhua news agency said.
"The management of the local government and the relevant departments was incompetent," said state television, citing preliminary findings of an investigative task force under the Cabinet.
Meng, seen as a close ally of President Hu Jintao, is the most senior official to lose his job over the disaster that hit the town of Taoshi Monday, when a mining waste reservoir burst its banks and engulfed the community of 1,000.
State media Thursday quoted Minister of Work Safety Wang Jun as saying "several hundred" people were thought still buried in the mud that swamped Taoshi.
As the top leader of Shanxi, Meng had to take ultimate responsibility for what had happened, according to state television.
Shanxi vice governor Zhang Jianmin was also removed from his post at Sunday's session in the provincial legislature, state television said.
Earlier reports in the state press said the mayor of Taoshi and other ranking officials had already been sacked over the disaster.
Meng lost his job as mayor of Beijing after just a few months in office in early 2003, when a crisis erupted over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a deadly epidemic which China initially tried to deny.
However, SARS started spilling over into other countries, and when international pressure forced China to own up to the extent of the epidemic, Meng was sacked along with health minister Zhang Wenkang.
He was widely seen as a fall guy, since it was considered unlikely that he could have single-handedly masterminded the comprehensive cover-up of the disease and its victims.
He later re-emerged in a less public position at a vast engineering project that will transport large amounts of water from China's wet south to its arid north.
When he was made Shanxi governor early this year, observers started talking about the possibility of a come-back -- although that now seems less likely.
Meng launched his political career in the Communist Youth League, a body where President Hu has built up a solid power base.
Following Meng's resignation, the post as acting governor of Shanxi was awarded to Wang Jun.
Wang has been head of the State Administration of Work Safety, and his appointment could signal a renewed emphasis on preventing China's high number of industrial accidents which result in massive fatalities each year.