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Wednesday, August 15, 2001, updated at 10:31(GMT+8)

Judges Withhold Ruling as Trials End

The two-day public hearings into an inferno that claimed the lives of 309 revellers ended on Tuesday in Luoyang, Central China's Henan Province.

The verdict of the court will be made public within a few days.

Four more defendants were brought to court on Tuesday for proceedings, all of whom were leaders of the Dongdu Department Store.

At the time of the fire on Christmas Eve, the Dongdu store had rented its basement and first floor to the Dennis Supermarket for financial reasons, and this was where the fire began.

The Dongdu store is alleged to be responsible for safety and security inside the six-storey building and any construction taking place beside the building.

Store manager Li Zhijian and Lu Dazhou, assistant manager, are accused of negligently causing the fire. Since Li took the post in July 1996, he received five notifications from the fire control authority urging him to remove all fire hazards.

A sixth notification arrived on September 21 at the store and the deadline for the store to eradicate these fire hazards was set at November 25, one month prior to the disaster.

However, the court heard that there were no practical efforts made to prevent potential fires at the store.

Du Kejun, director of the security department at the store, is charged with dereliction of duty after it is alleged that he violated the rules by asking all the newly purchased fire hydrants to be kept under beds in one room.

This action resulted in welders and watchmen failing to put out the fire immediately after it was detected, the court heard.

When Li Zhijian was accused of allowing houses to be built on the west side of the store building which blocked the entrance for fire engines, his counsel said there was still enough space for a fire engine to gain access.

However, a prosecutor countered that this failed to take into account the space needed for a fire engine to swerve.

The remaining nine defendants who appeared in the Jianxi District People's Court of Luoyang are all government officials. They are charged with dereliction of duty, abuse of power, negligence, harbouring criminals and perjury.

According to Zhao Yunlong, an official from the Henan provincial government, two vice-mayors have been dismissed from their positions following the fire and the provincial governor, two vice-provincial governors and the former Luoyang Party secretary have been disciplined.

Relatives of the victims have received 70,000 yuan (US$8,450) for each of their lost family members in January. But some victim relatives are still asking for more compensation from the government, the Dennis Supermarket and the Dongdu Department Store.

Source: China Daily

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The two-day public hearings into an inferno that claimed the lives of 309 revellers ended on Tuesday in Luoyang, Central China's Henan Province.

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