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Pub fire kills at least 59 in Bangkok
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Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Thursday morning inspected the scene of the Bangkok downtown pub after a midnight fire on the New Year's Eve killed at least 59, and injured over 200 others, many of them foreigners.

The premier examined the situation at the ill-fated Santika Club, situated at Ekkamai Soi 9, in Bangkok's busy Thong Lo district, and said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) had set up a center for coordinating and helping people who were injured or died from the fire incident.

The fire killed at least 59 and injured 212 people, according to Thai TV reports.

Deputy Police Commissioner-General Pol Lt-Gen Jongrak Juthanon said most of those killed were foreigners, including tourists from Nepal, Austria and Japan.

However, there remained some bodies hard to identify, as some victims did not carry identification documents with them.

The exact cause of the fire was still under investigation, which might need about one week, said Jongrak.

Pub workers earlier told Thai TVs that it was caused by some special-effect fireworks that was meant to usher in the New Year's Day at midnight Wednesday during the countdown celebration at the pub, but turned to set the pub's ceiling on fire.

According to Police Commissioner-in-General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, arson was unlikely a possibility but relevant units continued to gather evidence to determine the main cause of the incident.

The fire broke out at the popular Santika Pub at around midnight as merrymakers were overwhelmed by the New Year countdown celebration.

Firemen were alerted shortly after midnight but when they arrived at the three-story building, pandemonium was already breaking out with hundreds of people scrambling for their lives, TV reports said.

A lot of people remained trapped inside the most popular pub in the area when the firemen arrived, screaming for help.

It took two hours to bring the blaze under control.

A pub worker was quoted by TV as saying that up to 1,000 people could have been inside when the fire broke out.

Some pub workers told police that the fire was likely caused by fireworks explosions which meant to usher in the New Year after the countdown but set fire to the pub's ceilings made largely of inflammable materials.

One pub worker told reporters that the explosions were heard shortly after the New Year countdown ended. Fire started on the top floor and spread quickly, the pub worker said. The quick smoke caused immediate panic, sending people scrambling to the front door where they had come in.

Most of them were unaware there were three other exits, the pub worker said.

Those who died either suffered severe burns or were suffocated by smoke, police said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 1, 2009)

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