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43 Dead, 88 Injured Following Chinese Nightclub Fire

Police have arrested 13 people involved with a crowded nightclub, where fireworks sparked a blaze and a stampede that killed at least 43 people and injured 88, state media and officials have said.

The detainees included Wang Jing, the legal representative of the unlicensed King of the Dancers club in the Longgang district of the city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, the state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted police as saying Monday.

Wang fled the scene late Saturday but turned himself in Sunday after the general manager, vice general manager, safety officer, technician and performers were detained, the report said.

An initial police investigation showed that the blaze was triggered by fireworks ignited during the show in the club with a capacity of 380 people, on the third floor of a marketplace, Xinhua said.

Many partygoers were hurt in a stampede to escape down "a narrow aisle," a club staff member was quoted by the agency as saying.

"I saw people rushing out ... and all the lights were off," it quoted Yang Zhi as saying. Xinhua said Yang suffered burns to his neck.

Video footage aired Sunday by Hong Kong's ATV news showed the smoke-filled nightclub after the fire. Overturned tables, broken glass and shoes lost by partygoers littered the floor.

Guangdong Province Governor Huang Huahua blamed poor ventilation for the deaths.

"There was something wrong with the architectural design," Huang told Hong Kong media after inspecting the nightclub.

"If there was a better ventilation system, there wouldn't be so many deaths in the fire," he said.

ATV said the nightclub had no windows and only one exit.

An injured Hong Kong man surnamed Cheng said the fire started after one performer on the stage set off fireworks.

"I saw one of the performers shoot fireworks to the ceiling. I had no idea what the performance was, but the fire started," Cheng told ATV from his Shenzhen hospital bed.

"Many people fell to the floor. They shouted for help and cried. It was like in hell," said Cheng, whose first name was not given.

Fires and accidents in bars, theaters and other public places are common in China despite government pledges to improve safety. Many are caused by negligence and lax safety procedures, such as a lack of fire extinguishers and emergency exits.

In China's worst recent nightclub disaster, a fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the central city of Luoyang in December 2000, killing 309 people.