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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Paraguayan complex owners charged
A priest presides over a pre-burial ceremony for 10 victims of the supermarket fire in the yard of the Santisima Trinidad church in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Monday
Funerals have begun for the hundreds of victims
The owners of a Paraguayan shopping complex where at least 423 people died in a fire have been charged with manslaughter by the authorities.

Four security officers were also charged with the same offence after Sunday's blaze in the capital, Asuncion, which left hundreds injured.

They all deny allegations that the doors of the hypermarket were locked to prevent people leaving without paying.

Prosecutors have asked for the men to be kept in custody.

They have also demanded that the company's assets be seized.

Police say an exploding gas canister may have set off the fire.

Shock and grief continue to reverberate around the city after the impoverished country's worst disaster in decades.

The grim stories of survivors and photographs of the devastation at the Ycua Bolanos supermarket are splashed across the Paraguayan and regional press.

Among the sad stories is that of six young children, whose bodies were recovered from the toy department.

Survivors' horror

There have been numerous allegations that the complex doors were shut by security guards, preventing them from fleeing the inferno.

The prosecutor in charge of the inquiry revealed that a security guard said he received orders over a radio to lock the doors to prevent theft.

Edgar Sanchez said the guard "didn't know" who gave the order.

Eduardo Lugo, a firefighter, told the BBC: "People were trying to get out... but they couldn't get out because the main doors were locked."

And a survivor, Rosa Resquin, said she heard someone ordering that the store's doors be locked, shouting: "No-one gets out of here without paying."

For a few cents, people lost their lives
Judge Rafael Fernandez

Attorney General Oscar Latorre appealed to survivors to come forward to give their accounts to investigators. Authorities set up a table outside the smouldering remains of the huge hypermarket to take testimonies.

In some of the worst - though unconfirmed - allegations, witnesses said doors had been welded shut and security guards had even shot at firefighters attempting to break them down.

"For a few cents, people lost their lives," Judge Rafael Fernandez, who is involved in the investigation, reportedly said.

Four-month-old baby Enzo Bobadilla Morales, rescued from the shopping mall on Sunday, recovers in a paediatric hospital ward in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Monday
Medical supplies are being donated by other countries
Speaking from a police station, the shop owner, Juan Pio Paiva, told local television he did not order the doors locked.

"I don't believe I'm the least bit to blame," he said, according to AFP news agency.

"I'm still convinced the doors were not locked."

Mr Paiva's son is reported to be one of those charged.

Toll unclear

Rescuers continued to retrieve bodies from the building's ruins on Monday, but there were reports that they had been ordered to stop to prevent contamination of evidence.

Authorities are reportedly awaiting an international team of investigators to help with the operation.

More than 400 people were injured. Some 30 intensive care patients are among hundreds of fire victims in Paraguay's poorly equipped hospitals.

International donations of aid are coming in from countries, including neighbouring Argentina and Spain.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"It is the response of supermarket staff that is the key to this investigation"



SEE ALSO:
Paraguay shop fire toll tops 300
02 Aug 04  |  Americas
Witnesses 'heard blast before fire'
02 Aug 04  |  Americas
In Pictures: Paraguay shop fire
01 Aug 04  |  In Pictures
Country profile: Paraguay
06 May 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Paraguay
30 Jun 04  |  Country profiles



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