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China holds 31 responsible for disco blaze

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BEIJING, Dec. 23 -- China strengthened its crackdown on officials who turn a blind eye to fire hazards Friday by holding 29 cadres and two businessmen responsible for last month's disastrous Fuxin disco blaze which killed 233 students and young workers in northern Liaoning province. The 29 officials included the all-powerful party secretary of Fuxin, his deputy and a vice-mayor, who were stripped of all their posts, the official People's Daily said. Another three officials were charged with criminal negligence along with the disco organizers, Li Wenzhong and Li Gexin. Fire broke out in the overcrowded Yiyuan disco on the afternoon of Nov. 27 when a customer identified as Xing Shengli lit a cigarette from a burning newspaper and stuffed the paper into a hole in the sofa where he was sitting. Flames shot through the entire dance hall after the sofa started blazing. Xing was one of the 233 who perished after everyone rushed for the one, narrow exit. 'The indirect cause of the exceptionally big fire was that the disco was seriously overcrowded,' the newspaper said. 'It was decorated with a large number of inflammable materials and the organizers did not take preventative measures despite inspections.' What is more, the city's safety bureau failed to take action against the disco for its fire hazards, and the organizers did not open safety exits in time, the newspaper added. The embers of the Fuxin blaze had hardly cooled when the biggest fire in China's 15-year economic reform era broke out in a cinema in the remote northwest on Dec. 9, killing 385 schoolchildren and teachers.

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China's central government, enraged at the extent of local negligence and the massive loss of life, ordered nationwide security checks on all state property. It swiftly disciplined 19 officials for the cinema fire, and then turned to those responsible for the disco fire. Some 1,500 Chinese have been killed in over 30,000 fires this year.

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