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Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 13:20 GMT
Bulgaria mourns disco victims
Grieving teenager flanked by police outside the nightclub in Sofia, Bulgaria
Most of those who died were under 15
The Bulgarian government has declared a day of national mourning on Sunday for seven teenagers killed outside a night club in the capital, Sofia.

The deaths happened late on Friday, in a stampede and crush on an icy stairway, as hundreds of youngsters tried to get into a Christmas party at the popular Indigo disco.

Every death brings pain, but when it comes to children there are no words to express this pain

Ognyan Gerdzhikov
The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, called on Bulgarians to light a candle in their windows on Saturday evening.

In parliament, deputies observed a one minute silence in honour of those who died.

"Bulgaria is shattered by the tragic events. Every death brings pain, but when it comes to children there are no words to express this pain," said parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov.

Sofia's main Orthodox church, the Alexander Nevski cathedral, was crowded with people during a memorial service for the victims.

Relatives and friends of the victims - six girls and a boy - have meanwhile been leaving flowers near the staircase where they died.

Two other youngsters remain critically ill in hospital.

Owner detained

Police on Saturday detained and questioned the club owner, Angel Nikolov.

Police spokeswoman Stefka Ivanopva said the stampede occurred as teenagers tried to get into the town centre disco on Friday night.

She told the Associated Press news agency that initial reports of a stairway collapsing were false.

"The melee occurred as hundreds of children skidded on an icy staircase of the discotheque," she said.

A woman searches for her child in one of Sofia's hospitals
Most of the victims died in hospital
Most of those who died were under 15.

More than 1,500 teenagers were trying to enter the disco - a former ice rink - when the accident happened, Bulgarian state radio reported.

Police said they would be checking security at all of Sofia's nightclubs.

Eyewitness Anton Popov, who was waiting to enter the club, told Reuters news agency that the disco was holding a Christmas party when the accident happened.

"I was on the staircase when I heard screams from inside and I first thought that people were having fun," he said.

Poor weather conditions over the past few days have put temperatures well below freezing.

See also:

30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bulgaria
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