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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 12:32 GMT
Anger at Korean subway fire
Smoke fills one of the carriages (photo taken by survivor)
Toxic smoke may have caused many deaths

Grieving relatives of victims of South Korea's underground train disaster have clashed with police amid growing anger at apparent safety lapses.

An investigation has been launched into Tuesday's arson attack, which saw at least 125 people die on two trains in the city of Daegu after a flammable liquid was set alight in a carriage.

The disaster in Daegu showed vividly that the emergency safety measures simply did not work
Yoon Myeong-O
Civil engineering professor

Fire spread quickly, engulfing the train's other five carriages and a second, six-carriage train that arrived at the station after the blaze began.

Police said that 56-year-old Kim Dae-hwan, a local man with a history of mental illness who is currently being treated in hospital, had admitted he started the fire.

DNA analysis

About 200 relatives confronted officers and local government officials on Wednesday outside the disaster response centre that has been set up in the city, as Prime Minister Kim Sok-soo made a visit.

Flowers laid outside the station
The nation is in shock
They expressed frustration about the amount of time being taken to identify victims, many of whom were burnt beyond recognition.

Fewer than 30 bodies have been identified. The death toll could rise as 314 people are listed as missing, but local officials say this could be the result of double-counting.

Lee Dal-shik, 57, lost his 19-year-old daughter Hyun-jin.

He has supplied authorities with her dental records, and her hairbrush for DNA analysis.

"She disappeared yesterday when she went on the subway to meet a friend," he said. "I won't believe she is dead until I see a body or at least her remains."

Relatives have been allowed to view the gutted train carriages at a depot where they have been taken for analysis.

Safety lapses

President Kim Dae-jung declared the city a disaster area, as details emerged suggesting that low safety standards contributed to the scale of the tragedy.

It is reported that no sprinklers were installed in the Daegu station, and that its power system automatically shut down when the fire began, leaving those trying to escape in darkness.

There are also questions over the materials used on the trains, some of which are said to have emitted toxic fumes - apparently the primary cause of many of the deaths - when they caught fire.

In addition, the second train arrived at the station several minutes after the blaze started. Many are saying that it should have been stopped outside the station.

Yoon Myeong-o, a civil engineering professor at the University of Seoul, told French news agency AFP: "The disaster in Daegu showed vividly that the emergency safety measures simply did not work.

"The government must take a serious lesson from this disaster."

Daegu - about 200 kilometres (125 miles) south-east of the capital, Seoul - is South Korea's third largest city and was one of the host cities for last year's football World Cup.

South Korea's President-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, has said he will scale down his inauguration celebrations next Tuesday as a mark of respect to the dead and grieving.



The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"The work of a single suicidal man"

Daegu's unanswered questioned
19 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Arsonist 'didn't want to die alone'
19 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Korean arson victims called for help
18 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: S Korea subway attack
18 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: South Korea
28 Jan 03 |  Country profiles

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