China suspends official over drunken plane 'assault'

A Chinese military official has been suspended and placed under investigation over accusations of a drunken assault on a flight attendant, state media said Tuesday.

Fang Daguo was suspended from his job with the armed forces department of the southern city of Guangzhou, the state-run China Daily said, after an air hostess accused him of assaulting her in a dispute over his hand luggage.

The woman, Zhou Yumeng, had posted pictures on her Sina Weibo -- a microblogging service similar to Twitter -- showing injuries she said Fang inflicted, triggering uproar on China's popular social networking websites.

State-run news agency Xinhua said Fang and his wife "stunk of alcohol" when they boarded the flight from the eastern city of Hefei to Guangzhou, and that Fang had grabbed Zhou's arm hard enough to bruise it.

"If it wasn't for us, you wouldn't even have food to eat," Fang's wife told Zhou, according to Xinhua.

Officials in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district, where Fang is employed, said last week an internal investigation had found him innocent, but they changed tack after Xinhua disputed their account.

"Have you really conducted a comprehensive and objective investigation? Is what you found really what you published in the report?" Xinhua wrote in an unusually outspoken post to one of its Sina Weibo accounts.

Fang and his wife have reportedly apologised to Zhou and the incident has given rise to several commentaries in China's state-run media, hailing the power of the Internet to restrain badly-behaved officials.

"In the era of new media, public watchdogs are everywhere," said an editorial in the People's Daily, which closely reflects the opinions of China's ruling Communist Party.

"Conflicts between officials and the public are becoming increasingly problematic. Public opinion is taking an unprecedentedly stern line on the restraining of power."

Calls made to Yuexiu district government by AFP went unanswered Tuesday.

Fang is the second Chinese official to gain notoriety in the past week from having their perceived misdeeds exposed on Sina Weibo, which has more than 300 million registered users.

Yang Dacai, an official in China's central Shaanxi province, was vilified online after photographs showing him wearing luxury watches -- apparently not affordable on his government salary -- appeared on the microblogging service.

Authorities in Shaanxi said that they had opened an investigation into the official, promising to punish "discipline violation or corruption".

"The deterrence of such online exposure, which can destroy an official's career overnight, seems far more effective than anti-corruption education measures," the state-run Global Times wrote in an editorial about that case.

China has the world's largest online population with more than half a billion users, posing huge challenges to the government's efforts to control the information its people are able to access.

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