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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 21:54 GMT
S Korea subway inferno toll rises
Burnt-out train
Emergency workers in South Korea are still combing through the debris at an underground railway station where an arson attack left at least 120 people dead and scores missing.

Police have arrested a 56-year-old man in connection with the blaze which was started during the morning rush hour on Tuesday.

A BBC correspondent at the scene in the city of Daegu says hours after the fire was extinguished, acrid smoke still hangs in in the air, while the inside of the station has been completely wrecked.

The bodies were all in a state of being difficult to identify
Cho Hae-nyong, Daegu mayor
In addition to those confirmed dead, between 70 and 100 people are reported to be missing and more than 100 people have been injured, officials said.

Thick black smoke and the toxic fumes of burning plastic confronted rescuers who rushed to the scene.

According to eyewitness reports, a man started the fire in a carriage by setting alight a milk container containing flammable liquid.

"When the man tried to use a cigarette lighter to light the box, some passengers tried to stop him. Apparently a scuffle erupted and the box exploded into flames," Kim Byong-hak, a police lieutenant in Daegu, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

Identification problem

As the fire spread through the six-carriage train, a second train that had halted in the station also caught fire.

There was a total of 400 passengers on board both trains.

Firefighters say many of the victims have been burned beyond recognition.

"There were bones scattered on the floor mixed with people's burned belongings," firefighter Park Chang-shik told YTN television network.

Pictures showed the charred frames of subway carriages and a platform littered with shoes and discarded belongings.

Motive sought

One police officer said the suspect was believed to have mental health problems.

"It is not known immediately what has motivated him. We believe he is mentally ill. He is known to have been treated at a mental hospital," Daegu police station chief Suh Hyon-soo told AP.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung sent a message of condolence to the victims, the president's office said.

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.

Authorities in Seoul have stepped up security at subway stations, fearing a possible copycat attack.







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WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Damian Grammaticus
"There is a growing sense that this is a tragedy that may have been in the large part preventable"



SEE ALSO:
S Korea subway fire kills 120
18 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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