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Defendant in Sweden Fire Case Sorry

May 17, 2000

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ One of four young men accused of setting Sweden’s worst fire apologized in court to relatives of the 63 teen-agers killed and those who survived the 1998 blaze that raced through a crowded dance hall.

Meysam Mohammadyeh said he deeply regretted not calling the police to the two-story brick building where the dance was taking place in Goteborg, 300 miles southwest of Stockholm.

``It is an effort to sleep,″ he was quoted as saying by the Swedish news agency TT. ``I should have extinguished the fire or called the police.″

Mohammadyeh, Housein Arsani, 19, Shoresh Kaveh, 19, and Mohammad Mohammadamini, 21 _ all Iranian-born Swedish residents _ are facing trial for aggravated arson. All the defendants have pleaded innocent to the charge.

The fire started in an emergency stairwell and spread rapidly through the rented second-floor dance hall, killing 63 youths and injuring more than 200. More than 400 people were jammed into a space legally licensed for 150 when the blaze broke out just before midnight.

The trial, which began May 3, was being held in an exhibition center divided into three rooms to accommodate up to 600 survivors and relatives of victims. Most of the youths attending the dance were immigrants or children of immigrants and the trial proceedings were translated from Swedish into 13 languages.

Kaveh has admitted that he set fire to a chair because he felt humiliated when the dance’s teen-age organizers insisted he pay the $5 entrance fee even though they knew each other. He said he meant to make the organizers pay for the chair and clean up the mess, but not to hurt anybody.

``This has been hard for us all. I think that we all understand that we are very sorry for what happened,″ Kaveh said.

The two were allowed to address the court Tuesday, a day set aside for examining the personalities of the defendants. Arsani and Mohammadamini declined to make a statement. Closing arguments were scheduled for Wednesday, and a verdict was expected to take two to four weeks.

An aggravated arson convction would carry a sentence of six years to life in prison, but Swedish law would allow a lesser sentence because the suspects were under age 20 at the time of the Oct. 29, 1998, fire.

Lawyers said Mohammadyeh, who was at the party and allegedly let the other three in through a backdoor, did not usually hang out with the other three. He was perceived as compliant and afraid of Kaveh, according to testimony.

Kaveh had been sentenced previously with robbery, theft and assault, while Mohammadamini had been sentenced for aggravated assault. Arsani had been sentenced for attempted manslaughter but was on his way to getting his life together and was seeing a psychologist before the fire occurred, TT reported.

Update hourly