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24 Die in Beijing Internet Cafe Fire

A fire at an Internet cafe in the university district of Beijing left 24 people dead and 13 injured, according to Xinhua News Agency, Chinese state media.

The fire broke out at about 2:45 a.m. Sunday at the Lanjisu cafe in the Haidian district in Beijing's northwest and was put out 45 minutes later, said the Xinhua and an official reached by telephone at the Beijing fire department headquarters.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, said the fire official.

Haidian is the site of Beijing University and Tsinghua University, two of China's most prestigious schools. The area has a large student population and also is the center of China's growing computer and high-technology industries.

Internet cafes, many open 24 hours, are immensely popular in China, which says it has 33.7 million Internet users but where many families can't afford to buy a computer. The biggest cafes, especially near universities, have hundreds of terminals.

In December 2000, a fire at a discotheque in the central city of Luoyang killed 309 people. Investigators blamed the high death toll on locked emergency exits. Twenty-three people held responsible were sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years.

(China Daily June 17, 2002)

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