Argentinians protest after fatal fire

Thousands of Argentinians mourning almost 200 young victims of a nightclub fire have taken to the streets of Buenos Aires to protest the government's safety standards.

    Friends and family of the victims are demanding justice

    Last week's blaze and toxic smoke turned the Republica

    Cromagnon club into a death trap, claiming 183 lives.

    Overcrowding and locked emergency exits magnified the death

    toll.

    Families and friends of the victims, most of whom were

    teenagers or in their twenties, have accused the government of

    turning a blind eye to hazardous clubs and demanded the

    resignation of mayor Anibal Ibarra.

    The anger was also directed at President Nestor Kirchner,

    criticised for his silence on the tragedy while resting in

    Patagonia.

    Kirchner responded on Monday, saying the tragedy was

    "too big and too terrible to be adding declarations or

    exhibitionist gestures".

    Thousands of protesters marched from the Cromagnon club to

    city hall, led by a row of teenaged boys with tears streaming

    down their faces and carrying a banner demanding "justice" for

    friends who died.

    Many hung photographs of the victims around

    their necks.

    "We're marching for the resignation of Ibarra and jail for

    all those responsible, especially the inspectors and the owner

    of the club," said Alejandra Figliola, whose 16-year-old son

    died in the fire.

    Grieving mothers

    Many Argentines speculated that the club owner had obtained

    a licence by bribing officials.

     

    "Here in Argentina, everything is taken care of with a

    bribe, and then our children die"

    Alejandra Figliola, parent of 16-year-old victim

    "Here in Argentina, everything is taken care of with a

    bribe, and then our children die," Figliola said.

    Grieving mothers screamed insults and shook their fists in

    front of city hall.

    In his defence, Ibarra said the club had provided

    all the legal documents needed to obtain a permit in mid-2004,

    prior to installing the highly flammable soundproofing material

    blamed for many of the deaths because of poisonous fumes.

    The fire was set off by a flare fired by a fan into the

    ceiling, which caused burning debris to fall on to the crowd,

    which included small children and babies.

    Local newspaper

    Clarin cited a witness saying that a child sitting on his

    father's shoulders had tossed the flare.

    Ibarra said many lives would have been spared if the exit

    doors had been unlocked.

    The club had a permit for 1100 people, but witnesses

    said 4000 were packed inside.

    Safety rules

    Some 266 people injured in the fire remain hospitalised, of

    which about half are in critical condition.

     

    Witnesses say 4000 people were
    packed into the club

    Ibarra, 46, has been mayor of the city of about 3 million

    for five years and is considered a promoter of the city's

    entertainment and arts.

    The greater metropolitan area is home

    to 12 million people.

    For the third day running, he announced a series of

    stricter safety rules for nightclubs and vowed to dismiss any

    member of his government found to be negligent.

    Two city

    officials have resigned over the incident.

    "The drama that Buenos Aires lived through has forced us to

    put aside the gradual approach we had used until now and take

    urgent action," he said.

    Analysts said the tragedy would have a political cost.

    "Obviously, this is going to affect the Ibarra government's

    reputation of efficacy, and it's also going to affect Kirchner

    quite a bit, since he has said nothing," said political analyst

    James Nielson.

    The club owner, Omar Chaban, has been detained by police

    for questioning.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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