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February 23, 2010

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23 face trial over fatal fireworks

TWENTY-THREE people will go on trial this week for alleged involvement in a deadly blaze triggered by an illegal fireworks display that gutted a hotel at the new headquarters of China's main television network last year, a court official said yesterday.

The trial follows a high-level government inquiry into the February 9, 2009, blaze at China Central Television's new downtown Beijing complex that killed one firefighter and injured eight others.

The case will be heard starting today at the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court, a duty officer at the court said.

The suspects have been charged with causing an accident with dangerous goods, a report by the China News Website said yesterday. The charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

Those charged include the former head of CCTV's construction bureau, Xu Wei, and six other CCTV staffers as well as six employees from two construction companies that were responsible for fire prevention and security during the pyrotechnic display, the report said

It did not identify the other 10.

CCTV had arranged and paid for the Lunar New Year fireworks display. Earlier news reports alleged that Xu had ignored safety warnings and ordered that powerful pyrotechnics be used.

The 159-meter Mandarin Oriental Hotel was only weeks away from opening when the blaze engulfed it. The building has stood untouched since then, its charred metal skin twisted and peeled.

The 5-billion-yuan (US$731-million) complex also houses the television network's headquarters - a pair of enormous, leaning buildings of black glass and steel that were amazingly not damaged in the blaze.

Earlier this month, an investigation by the State Council, China's Cabinet, found 71 people responsible for the fire, including 44 who were to face criminal charges.

The State Council also ordered CCTV to pay a 3-million-yuan fine.


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