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Riots over Paraguay court ruling
Relatives of the 432 people who died in a supermarket fire in Paraguay demonstrate.
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2006 19:42 GMT

Demonstrators called for a tougher sentence

Relatives of hundreds of victims killed in a supermarket fire two years ago in Paraguay have rioted after a court handed down manslaughter charges to three of the shop's staff.
 
The relatives had hoped the shop's owners would be convicted of murder. They say doors had been locked during the fire to prevent looting, fatally trapping those inside.
The protesters ransacked the headquarters of Ycua Bolanos in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, on Tuesday.

 

The court panel was divided two to one in favour of the lesser manslaughter charges against the three defendants - the shop's owner, his son and a guard.

The hearing was suspended before a decision could be filed, as spectators overturned courtroom tables and tossed chairs.

 

Relatives left the court and marched towards the company's headquarters, where they lit fires and skirmished with the police for several hours.

 
Scattered protests faded after nightfall as police chased away youngsters. About 40 protesters were arrested.
 
The public court hearing was held at a converted basketball court to accommodate the victims' relatives.

 

The session, one of several public hearings over the past four months, was immediately halted by the disturbances.

 

About 35 police officers escorted the three judges to safety beneath plastic shields.

 

Murder charges

 

One judge said she favoured a more severe murder charge, while two judges arguing that manslaughter charges should be applied against the three defendants - reasoning that the supermarket's doors were not shut in a wilful attempt to kill.

 

Pio Paiva, right, owner of the supermarket that
went ablaze in 2004 killing about 400 people
A manslaughter conviction could carry a penalty of up to seven years in prison, while prosecutor Edgar Sanchez complained that a murder charge should be applied as it would be punishable by at least 25 years in prison and restitution to victims' families.

 

Nicanor Duarte, the president of Paraguay, went on television and appealed for calm after 15 demonstrators and 12 police officers were reported injured.

 

He said he had asked for the three-judge panel to be removed from the case.

 

"I've spoken with the attorney general of the nation and have asked him with all due respect to request that these judges be removed from this case," Duarte said.

 

Supermarket fire

 

The August 1, 2004, fire killed 432 people, most by asphyxiation, as thick smoke swept through the supermarket in Asuncion.

 

About 2,000 people were in the building, many of them families with children.

 

Prosecutors argue that the doors were deliberately ordered shut to prevent looting, trapping many inside.

 

Juan Pio Paiva and son Daniel Paiva, owners of the chain, were arrested soon after the fire along with a store guard whom many relatives wanted to face murder charges.

 

The relatives and their supporters said they were angry over what they called a lack of justice in the case.

Source:
Agencies
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