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Beijing temporarily closes Internet cafes after blaze.

BEIJING, June 17 Kyodo

(EDS: UPDATING WITH ADDITIONAL INFO)

Beijing municipal authorities have temporarily closed all the capital's Internet cafes for safety checks following a weekend blaze that killed 24 people in an unlicensed cafe where the only exit was blocked and the windows were barred, the official media reported Monday.

Eyewitnesses quoted in a China Daily report thought the operator of the cafe, predominantly patronized by university students, may have locked the door to evade inspections by Beijing police cracking down on illegal Internet cafes.

According to survivors, smoking was permitted in the cafe, located on the second floor of a two-floor building in the northwestern Haidian university district, and it was not equipped with fire extinguishers.

Most of those killed in the blaze, which broke out around 2 a.m. Sunday, appeared to have died from smoke inhalation, the report said. Another 13 were injured.

City authorities will launch a three-month fire safety inspection of all the capital's Internet cafes, punishing the operators of illegal cafes and revoking the licenses of those legal premises that fail to meet safety requirements, Beijing Mayor Liu Qi was quoted as saying.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the cafe had been open for less than a month and was one of the estimated 2,200 illegal Internet cafes in the capital, which reportedly has only around 200 legal Internet cafes.

Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the fire.

Lax fire safety measures in China's entertainment establishments have caused a number of deaths during the past few years, with the worst incident occurring in Luoyang in central Henan Province where 309 people were killed in a disco fire in December 2000.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party paper, the People's Daily, warned of the dangers posed by illegal Internet cafes corrupting the minds of China's youth with pornography and gambling.

''During the past few years, some illegal, profit-hungry Internet bars have connived to use pornography, gambling and bad games to harm young people's health. They have become 'electronic drug' centers and are causing great damage to society,'' the front-page editorial said.

Warning that young people lack self-control and the ability to protect themselves, it called on cultural, business and policing arms of the government to strengthen the administration of Internet cafes.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Jun 24, 2002
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