Page last updated at 21:17 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 22:17 UK

Jail term for Argentine club fire


Angry scenes in court as the verdict is read out

The former manager of a nightclub in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for a fire which killed 194 people in 2004.

Crowds outside the court cheered after the sentence was announced for Omar Chaban. A policeman and three fire safety officials also got jail terms.

Members of a rock band who had helped organise the club night were acquitted.

The fire was started by a flare, but hundreds of people were trapped inside because the fire doors had been locked.

'Mountain of people'

About 1,000 people, including survivors and the family members of the victims of one of Argentina's worst disasters, were outside the court house in Buenos Aires on Wednesday to hear the verdict.

Some people reacted angrily to the acquittal of the band, Los Callejeros, who had been accused of encouraging flares to be set off.

Fire inspectors inside the burned-out nightclub in Buenos Aires
Most of the victims were teenagers, but several young children were also killed

But there were cheers when Mr Chaban was sentenced to 20 years.

The manager of Los Callejeros and a senior police official who Mr Chaban allegedly bribed were also jailed for 18 years each. All three were expected to appeal, meaning that they would not be imprisoned immediately.

Mr Chaban had packed his 1,500-capacity club, Cromagnon Republic, with more than 4,000 people on the night of the fire, 30 December 2004.

Witnesses said the blaze started when a flare was shot at the foam ceiling, sending burning debris and smoke into the crowd.

One survivor at the time described how the fire had spread rapidly, and that there had been a "mountain of people" trying to escape.

However, the emergency exits had been locked by the club's management to prevent people from getting in without tickets.

In the confusion, many people ran upstairs, where they choked to death. Many of those who died had made it outside but returned to find their friends.

Most of the victims were teenagers, but several young children died in a nursery which the club had allowed to operate in the women's toilets. A further 1,400 people were injured.

The BBC's Candace Piette in Buenos Aires says the controversy surrounding the fire forced the removal of the city's mayor and led to tight security measures being imposed at public venues across Argentina.

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