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Russia mourns as nightclub fire victims are buried
Moscow, Dec 7 (Agencies):
Published on 8 Dec. 2009 12:37 AM IST
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Russia observed a national day of mourning on Monday for the 112 victims of a weekend nightclub blaze, as investigators stepped up their probe into fire safety breaches and burials continued in Perm. The number of casualties remained stable overnight and all the dead and injured were now identified, said the spokeswoman for the regional branch of the Russian prosecutor's Investigative Committee. Prosecutors say the fire, Russia's most deadly in decades, began on Friday night when sparks from a firework show ignited wicker coverings on the walls and ceiling of the packed Lame Horse nightclub, provoking a stampede as more than 200 partygoers rushed towards a single narrow exit. Flags flew at half mast across the country on Monday after President Dmitry Medvedev declared it a national day of mourning. Alongside the burials, the official investigation continued after the club's owner, two managers and the man who organised the firework show were remanded in custody on Sunday by a court in Perm -- a city 1,150 km (720 miles) east of Moscow -- on suspicion of manslaughter and breaching fire regulations. "At the present time, searches are ongoing, documents are being seized after the court decided to order the arrest of four suspects yesterday evening," the spokeswoman said. Local people had also laid a long wall of red and white flowers outside the club's entrance in snow, usually in bunches of two or four, with even numbers of flowers traditionally seen as a mark of respect for the dead in Russia. Most of the victims were in their 20s and 30s. Framed photos of young women illuminated by candles were left in makeshift tributes outside the nightclub. As they lay flowers beside the cordoned-off entrance, some people said corruption had allowed the club to ignore basic fire rules for years. More than 15,000 people die each year in fires across Russia and senior officials acknowledge that fire inspections are routinely used as a way to demand bribes from establishments, rather than enforce safety rules. In addition to the dead, another 121 people are still in a serious condition at hospitals in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities after being airlifted to major burns units. Doctors said many of the injured had more than 50 percent burns and some were being kept alive by artificial respirators. The nightclub was not equipped with automatic fire extinguishers and fireworks should not have been used there, the spokeswoman said, adding that the club's owner had tried to flee after the fire. Friday's fire was Russia's deadliest in decades, emergency officials said, and the worst nightclub fire worldwide since nearly 200 people died at a party in Buenos Aires in 2004.

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