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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 04:53 GMT
Anger at Paraguay blaze verdict
Protesters set alight a tire outside a branch of the supermarket chain
Protests against the verdict turned violent outside the courtroom
Clashes have broken out in the capital of Paraguay after a court acquitted three men of murder for their role in a mall blaze which killed more than 350.

Juan Pio Paiva, his son Daniel and a guard, Daniel Areco, were found guilty of negligent homicide.

Prosecutors had sought a murder conviction, claiming the men locked fire doors during the 2004 blaze.

Relatives of the dead and survivors reacted angrily to news that the men were found guilty of the lesser crime.

Some 30 people were injured in clashes with riot police as relatives reacted to the verdicts read out in an indoor stadium used as a court in the capital, Asuncion.

Looting

Those listening surged towards the judges' desk as the decision was read.

The three men face a maximum prison term of seven years.

According to the law in Paraguay, those convicted of murder can be punished with a 25-year sentence.

"They have lit another fire under us all," said Clara Benitez, one of the victims.

Outside the packed stadium, crowds ransacked a supermarket belonging to the owner of the shopping complex, pulling bags of sugar and bottles of alcohol from the shelves and dumping them on the streets.

Police were also reported to have put out several cars that had been set cars alight by angry relatives and their supporters.

Corruption allegations

"The judges are corrupt and now they will have to face the consequences," said Liz Torres, a member of an association of victims' families.

Juan Pio Paiva - owner of the supermarket, in the courtroom
Pavia denied claims he had locked the doors to prevent looting

"This is inhuman and wrong and we urge people to come and support us," she said.

The three men pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, saying that the doors had been shut to prevent looting.

The fire broke out in a restaurant in the Ycua Bolanos supermarket on the outskirts of the capital in August 2004.

It quickly engulfed the rest of the complex causing a roof to collapse.

At least 369 people were killed in the fire and another 400 injured as they tried to escape.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Relatives destroy the makeshift courtroom



SEE ALSO
Paraguay shop fire toll tops 300
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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