Russia - President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday demanded tough punishment for the owners of a Russian nightclub where at least 103 people died in a blaze and stampede sparked by an indoor firework show.
The firework show went disastrously wrong at about 11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m. British time) Friday, filling the Lame Horse nightclub in the city of Perm, 1,150 km (720 miles) east of Moscow, with toxic smoke and sowing panic among clubbers.
Russian television showed Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu telling President Dmitry Medvedev during a teleconference from Perm that the death toll of the night fire had reached 103 people. Thirty-four of them have been identified, he said.
A Reuters photographer in Perm saw groups of distraught relatives and loved ones of those feared dead as they trickled into a local morgue for recognition. Others -- some weeping or smoking nervously -- stared blankly at the lists of the dead.
The Kremlin said Medvedev had declared December 7 a day of mourning in Russia, with flags to be at half-mast across the nation and media asked to abstain from entertainment shows. Three days of mourning will be observed in Perm.
A sombre Medvedev demanded severe punishment for the club owners. First, it seems to me they have neither brains nor conscience and secondly, they are completely indifferent to what happened. I watched a report -- they even took to their heels.
They must be punished with the full force of the law, he said, adding that the main club owner had been repeatedly warned by fire inspectors that his premises were unsafe.
Russian agencies quoted prosecutors as saying the club owner had been detained and was now being interrogated.
This is not a premeditated murder, but this does not lessen the gravity of the crime. A huge number of people died.
Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told Medvedev that of those 130 injured 88 were in a serious condition, including 59 on artificial lung ventilation. Medvedev ordered those most seriously injured to be flown to Russia's best medical centres.
A Reuters witness said dozens of charred bodies were piled on the pavement outside the club as medics moved the injured into ambulances. Blood-covered women in evening clothes lay on stretchers as scores of policemen swarmed around.
A stray firework sparked the fire, officials said. Wicker coverings on the walls of the club burst into flames, prompting panic. More than 200 people were in the club at the time.
The fire follows a bombing last Friday which killed 26 and injured more than 100 on a train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, for which Chechen Islamist militants claimed responsibility.
That blast stoked fears that Russia could face a nationwide bombing campaign, but Russian officials played down any links between the train attack and Friday's nightclub disaster.
There are no factors or signs pointing to a possible detonation of an explosive devise, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told Medvedev during a video link from Perm.
I've just spoken to a friend who was there, said a posting on popular Internet forum www.teron.ru, which serves Perm, a city of 1.2 million near the Ural mountains. He says there was no blast, everything flared up from the fireworks. Many people were cut off from the exit and suffocated as a result.
Officials have in the past blamed poor fire safety standards for high death tolls in fires at orphanages, hospitals and other institutions, but Friday's fire was one of Russia's most deadly in recent years.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Matthew Jones)