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Verdict in Argentine club fire sets off melee

Associated Press / August 20, 2009

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BUENOS AIRES - Concert promoters, a police supervisor, city inspectors, and a band manager were convicted and sentenced to prison yesterday in a 2004 nightclub fire that killed 193 young people.

Members of the Callejeros band were absolved of criminal responsibility for the inferno, which became emblematic of government failures in Argentina, and those convicted were allowed to remain free on appeal.

The verdicts prompted an uproar in the courtroom and the streets outside as police struggled to separate family members and followers of the band who punched each other in frustration and anger.

Many survivors saw the long-awaited 2,500-page court ruling as a key test of their demands to transform society. But the sort of corruption and negligence that contributed to the choking blaze inside the overcrowded Cromagnon Republic nightclub remains endemic in Argentina.

The political movement created by families of the victims - most of them poor youths - spoke of empowering voters to shake up a system that enabled police and inspectors to let people carry fireworks into a nightclub where nearly 3,000 people squeezed into a space designed for 1,000.

They succeeded in ousting the city’s mayor, Anibel Ibarra. Some clubs, particularly in upscale neighborhoods, now follow stricter building codes.