BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentines irate over perceived security lapses in a nightclub fire that killed 188 people — many of them teenagers — banged pots and pans in protest and vowed to march later Monday against city officials.
The third straight day of protests over the Dec. 30 fire that also injured more than 700 others at an indoor rock concert came as forensic experts studied whether a flare launched by a member of the audience lit foam on the club's ceiling, asphyxiating many with choking fumes.
Demonstrators staged two marches during a weekend of sad burials, charging that the Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra (search) and other city authorities had not properly regulated nightclub safety. They vowed a march Monday evening to city hall would be their largest yet to demand his departure.
"Get out! Get out!" many demonstrators shouted during a rally by 2,000 people late Sunday. The group, which included relatives of the victims, complained that leaders should be held accountable and that new citywide reforms be imposed on all clubs.
The demonstrators voiced anger over local reports suggesting emergency exits were padlocked or tied shut, turning the Cromagnon Republic nightclub (search) into a death trap during last Thursday's concert by a local rock band.
"How could so many young people have died?" asked one 51-year-old protester, Jose Fuentes. "This tragedy is the product of political corruption that looks the other way and lets the clubs function without meeting even minimum norms for security."
But the mayor was quick to reject such charges by the marchers, who included family members carrying photographs of their children. He quickly ordered city clubs closed for two weeks of safety inspections and banned future indoor concerts indefinitely.
On Monday, Ibarra told the La Nacion newspaper in its online edition that the Cromagnon Republic had undergone inspection by firefighters in April 2004. In the interview, he charged that any addition of flammable materials to the club's acoustic ceiling came after that certification.
Ibarra also added that investigators should focus on the club's owner, Omar Chaban, now under arrest and awaiting an initial court appearance.
Thursday's fire was this country's worst in recent memory. Police have reported 188 fatalities and health officials most recently said 263 people remained in hospitals, 117 in serious or critical condition.
About 4,000 people, mostly teenagers, were inside the club for a concert of the rock band Los Callejeros (search) when the fire broke out. Reeling from thick smoke, panicked crowds surged toward the doors, trampling each other in desperate efforts to flee.
Authorities said the exits were either tied shut or padlocked to prevent people from entering without paying. The building has a capacity for only 1,500 people, city officials said.
Many of the victims died from smoke inhalation, officials added, and local reports said crumpled bodies were found piled atop each near one blocked exit, their shoes stripped off in mounds.
Investigators said they had identified three people believed to have launched a flare that ignited the fire, but were trying to determine if they could be among the dead. Fireworks are widely used in Buenos Aires during New Year's celebrations.
Amid the public indignation, the city's public security chief, Juan Carlos Lopez, quit his post over the weekend and local reports Monday said a chief of municipal inspectors also followed suit in resigning.
Meanwhile, Ibarra said he expected he would meet with President Nestor Kirchner (search) after his return soon from a New Year's holiday in his native Santa Cruz province.
Criticized by some for staying out of public view, Kirchner had declared three days of national mourning and sent condolences for the victims. He also had issued a statement saying he was deeply moved by the tragedy.
At the site of the club, Argentines left candles, flowers and cards in a growing memorial Monday to the victims.
The dead also included several children left in a nursery during the show, according to local media.