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China jails 23 over disco fire

22 August, 2001

Court in China has jailed 23 people in connection with a fire in a nightclub in the city of Luoyang last December which killed 309 people.

State media said the longest sentence - 13 years - was given to a welder who was charged with starting the fire and then fleeing without raising the alarm.

Police, safety and government officials were among others sentenced to between three and nine years.

But relatives of the victims had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the trial.

The blaze was China's worst fire disaster for years. Many of the dead were young revellers attending a Christmas night party.

Investigations revealed that the fire had been started by maintenance men doing welding work in the basement of the building.

One of them, Wang Chengtai, ran away without raising the alarm when the flames got out of control.

Relatives had to identify victims from photographs

But investigators also found that the building had no sprinkler system, fire exits had been blocked by illegal construction and safety reports had been falsified.

Nine officials from the local police, construction, commerce and fire departments were jailed on charges of abetting the building's operators in breaking safety regulations.

Two Taiwanese investors in the building were also sentenced.

Compensation demands

But a group of more than 30 relatives of those who died have filed a lawsuit calling for more senior officials to be put on trial. They have also demanded more compensation.

Smoke prevented fire-fighters from entering the dance hall

Immediately after the verdicts were announced, one relative expressed dissatisfaction at the sentences, seen as relatively light in a country which has executed more than a thousand people over the past few months for crimes including robbery and forgery.

After the fire, angry relatives took the streets of Luoyang to protest at official incompetence.

Some family members say they have been watched by police since and told not to talk to the media.

The official report on the verdict stressed that the Chinese authorities have treated the investigation with the utmost seriously and are stepping up safety precautions across the country in the light of this and a series of other recent accidents.

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