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Beijing Closes Internet Cafes After Deadly Fire - 2002-06-16

Authorities in Beijing have ordered all the city's Internet cafes closed after a deadly fire in one illegal establishment. At least 24 people died in the blaze and 13 others were injured.

The closure order followed the deadly fire at the Lanjisu Cyber Cafe in Beijing's northwestern Haidian district, which is home to two major universities.

The blaze broke out about 2:45 a.m. Sunday. Rescue crews had extinguished the fire in less than an hour, but not before several people, mostly college students, died.

China's official Xinhua news agency says Beijing Mayor Liu Qi told authorities to shut down the city's Internet cafe operations and no new licenses would be issued until a complete review.

Beijing has more than 2,000 Internet cafes, and Xinhua says only 200 of them are legal.

The Communist government strictly regulates access to the Internet.

Licenses are difficult to secure, and officials routinely crack down on cyber cafes to ensure there is no violation of bans on materials deemed politically sensitive.

Under the stringent rules, many cafe operators do not bother to apply for licenses. Many cafes, operating in secret, keep doors locked and windows barred to prevent police from inspecting the premises. It appears this practice may have led to the tragedy at Lanjisu Cyber Cafe, where people trapped inside had few means of escape.

Fires occur frequently in China, where shop owners often ignore safety regulations. But such an accident is rare for the capital city, where the rules are more strictly enforced.

Xinhua says Mayor Liu has also ordered fire inspections in all of the city's buildings.