Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 17:28 UK

Argentine disco fire trial starts

By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Buenos Aires

Relatives demonstrating in a file photo from 2005
Relatives blamed lax safety standards for the tragedy

One of the biggest and most controversial trials in Argentine history has started in the capital, Buenos Aires.

Fifteen people are accused of responsibility for a nightclub fire in December 2004 that killed 194 people, many of them youngsters.

It was a tragedy with which Argentine society is still struggling to come to terms.

The trial is set to last seven months and hear more than 300 witnesses.

The 30th of December 2004 is a date etched firmly on Argentina's national consciousness.

On that night, someone set off flares inside the Cromagnon nightclub, starting the huge fatal blaze, in which 1,500 people were also injured.

The images of the burnt bodies and choking survivors being dragged from the embers of the nightclub are as strong today as they were then.

Security measures

In court, accused of responsibility for the tragedy, are the club's owner, members of the band the Callejeros who were playing that night, and policemen and local officials accused of taking bribes to overlook safety measures.

The controversy surrounding the fire brought down the then Buenos Aires city government and led to tight security measures being imposed at venues across Argentina.

The parents of the victims - and much of the rest of Argentine society - will be watching the court proceedings closely, looking for answers to how this tragedy could have happened.

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