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NIGHTCLUB FIRE Funerals, resignation



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Protesters showed up at the town hall.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Mourning families buried victims Sunday of the nightclub fire that killed at least 188 people and injured more than 700, while Buenos Aires' public security chief resigned in the furor after revelations that some of the packed club's emergency exits were locked.

The funerals came before a pot-banging protest as irate Buenos Aires residents demanded a full government accounting for Thursday's calamity, the worst fire tragedy in this country in recent memory.

At one gravesite, a toddler stood dazed as relatives tearfully clutched at a coffin before it was laid into the earth. At another funeral, mourners clapped spontaneously for a 20-year-old man, bidding him farewell as his remains were placed in a crypt on a hot summer day in South America.

Elsewhere, anger was palpable on traditionally one of the most festive holiday weekends of the year. "Resign! Resign!" several hundred people shouted during a march late Saturday on the offices of Mayor Anibal Ibarra. The town hall was shielded by helmeted riot police behind iron gates, but no violence was reported.

Protesters, in calling for Ibarra to step down, said city officials must toughen safety codes for concert halls and rock clubs.

They also demanded a full investigation of reports that emergency exits at the Cromagnon Republic club were locked as panicked crowds surged toward the doors, choking on thick black smoke and trampling each other in desperate efforts to get out. Authorities said the exits were either tied shut or padlocked to prevent people from entering without paying.

The scene

About 4,000 people, mostly teenagers, were inside the club for a concert of the Argentine rock band Los Callejeros when the fire broke out late Thursday. Investigators are determining whether a flare set off by a member of the audience ignited foam on the ceiling. The building has a capacity for only 1,500 people, city officials said.

Many of the victims died from smoke inhalation, city officials said. Local reports said bodies were found piled atop each near one blocked exit and a newspaper photograph showed piles of shoes, mostly tennis sneakers, left by the victims.

Beset by public indignation, the Buenos Aires public security chief, Juan Carlos Lopez, resigned over the weekend.




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