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Teenager started S. Korea's worst fire in 25 years.

SEOUL, Nov. 9 Kyodo

South Korea's worst fire in 25 years at a karaoke bar in the port city of Inchon late last month was started by a teenage employee curious about whether paint thinner ignites, police said Tuesday.

Police said the Oct. 30 fire that killed 55, mostly teenagers, broke out when the 14-year-old boy struck a cigarette lighter in a karaoke room being renovated in the four-story building's basement.

Police earlier said the fire started when the boy mistakenly broke an incandescent bulb and caused sparks while cleaning the room.

In an official announcement after an investigation, police said the boy confessed that the fire broke out when he and a teenage friend who died in the blaze were trying to see whether the lighter could ignite paint thinner.

The fire quickly swept through the upper floors of the building. Most of the victims were trapped inside the beer hall on the second floor, which had no emergency exit, as people rushed to its only exit and became jammed. The main cause of the deaths was asphyxiation, police said.

As the casualties included many high school students at the beer hall, the government and Inchon municipal authorities have decided to tighten regulations on underage drinking.

Police have arrested 12 people, including the beer hall's owner, on charges of bribery and involuntary manslaughter after questioning 34 people, including police officers and city officials.

An initial police investigation showed a number of police officers and city officials turned a blind eye to the illegal operation of the beer hall and its insufficient fire safety checks in exchange for bribes.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Nov 15, 1999
Words:269
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