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Victims of S. Korea Blaze Mourned

November 6, 1999

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Tearful teen-agers burned incense and laid long-stemmed white chrysanthemums today during a memorial service for friends killed in a bar fire that left 55 people dead.

The victims of the blaze, mostly teen-agers, were partying in an unlicensed beer bar that lacked basic fire prevention facilities such as sprinklers and fire alarms, and served alcohol to minors _ violations ignored by officials who allegedly had taken bribes from the owner.

It was South Korea’s worst fire in a quarter-century.

``My poor friends! I hope you’ll all go and live in a place where it is safe and there is no tragedy,″ said Lee Sun-hyong, 18, reading a tribute at the memorial service.

The service was held at a gymnasium in the western port city of Inchon. About 1,200 students, family members and politicians stood with bowed heads in front of a row of photographs of the fire victims. Some mothers wailed and collapsed.

Investigators believe a worker in an underground karaoke lounge started the blaze by inadvertently breaking a lamp and showering sparks onto paint thinner on the floor. The flames spread quickly, trapping 120 people in the second-floor beer bar.

The fire gutted a three-story building in Inchon. Most of the victims died of smoke inhalation. Seventy-four people, mostly teen-agers, were injured.

Authorities say the building had passed fire safety checks, the latest on June 19.

They say the bar owner paid $80 to $400 a month in bribes to at least 15 police, fire inspectors and other low-ranking officials.

The owner is in prison on bribery and involuntary manslaughter charges. Today, police sought arrest warrants for two police officers accused of taking bribes.

So far, police have arrested nine people, including three bar employees, a local government official and a police officer who falsely reported long before the tragedy that the bar had been closed.

Corruption involving government officials has often been uncovered after fires and other disasters in South Korea.

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