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Brazilian cities crack down on nightclubs

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 9:26 p.m.

SANTA MARIA, Brazil — Cities across Brazil are cracking down on nightclubs to ensure that they comply with fire regulations in response to a weekend blaze destroyed a club in the southern university town of Santa Maria, killing 235 people.

The fire was Brazil's deadliest in half a century and the tragedy resonated across the country, with many people demanding those responsible be prosecuted and that the government tighten up on safety.

Police said a flare that ignited the fire and was used by the band for visual effects was meant for outdoor use, the club's emergency exit signs were not working and the only available exit was too small.

Outraged Brazilians blame what they see as lax regulation and corrupt officials for the tragedy.

There are fears that similar fires could break out at other clubs and public venues, especially as the country gears up to host the soccer World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Sensitivity is also growing in the run-up to next month's Carnival celebrations, which feature throngs of unruly revelers in parades and street parties in cities across the country.

As funerals and an official investigation proceeded, government officials and lawmakers pressed for tougher laws.

President Dilma Rousseff, who visited Santa Maria over the weekend, urged local officials on Tuesday for more rigor in enforcing safety regulations.

Cities across the country quickly responded. “We were all evidently shocked by the Santa Maria tragedy,” said Bosco Saraiva, the acting mayor of Manaus, a city of 2 million people in the Amazon region. “Yesterday we started a total cleanup.”

The campaign featured club inspections and city authorities closed 17 because of fire hazards and expired permits.

Americana, a city in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo, issued a blanket order for all nightclubs to shut down temporarily while new safety standards are discussed. Brasilia and other cities including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have also deployed inspectors.

In Salvador, Brazil's third-biggest city, the mayor ordered inspections of all entertainment venues, including Carnival installations now being erected. Safety experts have criticized Carnival floats and decorations in the past because they are often made with paper, plastics and other highly flammable materials.

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