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Internet Cafe Fire Kills 24 in Beijing - 2002-06-16

A fire early Sunday morning in a Beijing Internet cafe has left 24 people dead and at least 13 other injured. The blaze broke out about 2:45 AM at the Lanjisu Cyber Cafe in Beijing's northwestern Haidian district.

Rescue crews had extinguished the fire in less than an hour, but not before dozens of people - mostly college students - died.

Haidian is Beijing's university district and is also the center of the country's developing computer and high-tech industries.

Neighbors and witnesses say locked or barred windows made it difficult for the cafe customers to escape the flames. Officials are investigating the cause of the fire.

Internet Cafes, both licensed and illegal, are very popular in China, which says it has more than 33 million Internet users. But Chinese officials regularly crack down on such cafes to ensure computer users are not accessing websites considered politically sensitive or those restricted by the communist government.

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.

In December 2000, a fire in a discotheque in the central city of Luoyang killed more than 300 people. The investigation into that fire concluded the high death toll was due to locked emergency exits, and the people held responsible were sentenced to prison terms.