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South Korean Police Arrest 7 in Fatal Subway Fire Case - 2003-02-24

Police in South Korea Monday have arrested at least seven people in connection with last week's fatal subway fire. Most of those arrested work for the subway company.

The detained subway employees are suspected of negligence and operating the trains in an unsafe manner. Police are investigating why subway operators allowed a second train to enter the station in Daegu after a fire began in the first train.

One of those arrested Monday is the driver of the second train. A police spokesman says the driver did not evacuate passengers from the train, but instead pulled the master key and shut the door, which prevented anyone from escaping. Most of the dead are thought to have been passengers on the second train.

Other subway employees are accused of responding too slowly to the fire and of trying to cover up evidence of wrongdoing.

Authorities already have the man they believe started the fire in custody facing homicide charges. The suspect, apparently intent on committing suicide, entered one of the subway cars last Tuesday morning and set alight a carton of flammable liquid. The blaze quickly spread, killing at least 133 people, and injuring more than 300 others.

The families of the victims continue to criticize the South Korean government, saying it is taking too long to identify the bodies and return remains. They accuse authorities of trying to cover up the true death toll in what is being described as South Korea's worst rail disaster. The government denies any cover up and says that many of the bodies are so badly burned that it could take months to identify them.

There are about 300 people still listed as missing from the fire. Police say many of the names have accidentally been listed twice and the final number of those lost will be much smaller.