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Teenage Cafe Fire Suspects Detained

Beijing police Wednesday detained two teenage boys suspected of setting fire to a cyber cafe, in which 24 people were killed.

The fire ravaged the unlicensed Lanjisu Internet cafe, located in Haidian District, early on Sunday morning. Most of the victims were reported to be students from nearby universities.

The two suspected arsonists, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, are junior school students both from divorced families.

They confessed to police that they had quarreled with the cyber staff two weeks before and started the fatal blaze using gasoline in retaliation.

According to China's criminal law, people under 14 years old will not bear any criminal responsibility, which means that the younger boy would be exempt from criminal punishment if his age is confirmed as 13.

The 14-year-old can be tried for arson but will be given a relatively lenient sentence if convicted.

Article 115 of the law stipulates that a normal range of sentences for arsonists who cause serious injuries or deaths to others is more than 10 years' imprisonment or death.

Investigation showed that two boys bought 1.8 litres of gasoline at a petrol station close to the cyber cafe in the evening before the fire.

Drawing an instant lesson from the fire, the Beijing government on Monday shut down all Internet bars in the city, licensed or not, and similar action has been taken in many major cities.

The capital also decreed that it would not approve any new cyber cafes in future.

There were roughly 2,400 cyber cafes in the Chinese capital before the incident, of which only 200 had licences.

But public opinion is apparently split on the ban. A Xinhuanet.com survey found that 40 percent of respondents supported the ban, while 35 percent were against. The other 25 percent said they had reservations.

Huang Chengqing, deputy secretary-general of China's Internet Network Association, said it was a too simple solution just to shut down all cyber cafes in order to regulate the market.

Huang argued the complicated procedures of examination and approval could be factors that drove many operators underground, China News Service reported.

Huang said cyber cafes were the main channel for netizens and governments should not shut them all down in the wake of the fire to strengthen management.

Huang also appealed to relevant authorities to provide necessary training for cyber cafe operators.

(China Daily June 20, 2002)

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