Argentine protesters on streets over fatal fire
Thousands of Argentines mourning almost 200 young victims of a rock club fire took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Monday to protest the government's safety standards, as the city mayor resisted pressure to resign.
Four days ago a 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 are 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.
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
FATHER WANTS PUNISHMENT
"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.
Many Argentines speculated that the club owner had obtained a license by bribing officials.
"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 defense, Ibarra told reporters 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 onto the crowd, which included small children and babies. Local newspaper Clarin cited an eyewitness 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.
FOUR TIMES CAPACITY
The club had a permit for 1,100 people, but witnesses have said some 4,000 were packed inside.
Some 266 people injured in the fire remain hospitalized, of which about half were in critical condition.
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 at a news conference.
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.