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China tries 23 over Christmas disco blaze

Fire
Sparks from a welding torch are blamed for starting the blaze  


By Staff and wire reports

BEIJING, China -- Twenty-three people have gone on trial in China for their role in a disco fire last December in which 309 people died.

The blaze struck on Christmas Day at a dance hall in the central city of Luoyang.

Most of the victims were revelers suffocated by smoke. The hall had only two emergency exits, one hidden behind the bar, and there were no sprinklers or smoke alarms.

After the disaster angry relatives took to the streets protesting against what they said was bungling and neglect by local officials lay behind the tragedy in the ancient former capital.

Nine government officials, including police chief Yue Yongxin and fire inspector Yao Guohong, were among those on trial, state television said.

They are suspected of neglect, power abuses, and obstructing justice, it said.

Also on trial were four welders blamed for starting the fire and accused of fleeing the scene without setting off the fire alarm.

Fatal fall

A Chinese news website said the found had initially tried to put out the fire but fled the scene without reporting to the police.

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Witnesses said some of those trapped by the fire jumped from windows onto mats laid on pavements outside the burning building -- many died or were severely injured in the fall.

Dozens of others were overcome by smoke and collapsed before they were able to escape.

The managers of a department store under the disco also face charges of "responsibility for causing a serious fire accident," state television said.

It is unclear if any of those on trial faces the death penalty although at the time of the blaze Premier Zhu Rongji had promised that those responsible would be punished severely.

Reuters contributed to this report.






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