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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Beijing cyber cafe fire kills 24
Man looks away from charred facade
The cafe is in the heart of the university district (AP)
A fire at a Beijing cyber cafe has killed 24 people and left at least 13 others injured.

State media said the blaze started at the Lanjisu Cyber Cafe in the early hours of Sunday morning, in the Haidian district of the Chinese capital.

Police seal off the area
Police sealed off the road leading to the building
Firefighters who rushed to the scene managed to rescue 17 people, China Central television reported.

But iron bars on the window meant there was no hope of escape from the choking, toxic smoke for the other, mainly student, visitors to the cafe.

"I was awakened by the noise in the middle of the night," one resident told AFP news agency.

"When I came out, I saw about three fire engines and a lot of smoke," he said.

People inside the cafe screamed for help.

Firefighters managed to put the fire out within an hour.

On Sunday morning, police cordoned off the area and were inspecting the soot-stained shell of the two-storey concrete building which housed the cafe.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Internet fans

The area, in the northern part of Beijing, is home to many universities and has a big student population.

Cheap internet rates late at night are reported to have attracted many students to the cafe, meaning it was still packed when fire broke out at 0230 (1830 GMT on Saturday).

Internet cafes are enormously popular in China and their number has risen sharply in recent years, with many of them open 24 hours a day.

The BBC's Beijing correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says there are now reported to be at least 200,000 internet cafes across China, but many are illegal.

Only a few weeks ago, a senior figure in China's Communist government expressed concern about the amount of time young people are spending surfing the internet and called for tighter regulation of cyber cafes.

The cafes are often dimly lit, hidden from view and with heavy doors to deter the authorities - but which can turn them into a death trap in case of fire.

China's fire safety record is poor.

In December 2000, a fire at a nightclub in the city of Luoyang killed 309 people.

Investigators blamed the high death toll on locked emergency exits.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"When the fire broke out they had little chance of escape"
See also:

05 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
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26 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
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