Argentine disco operator gets 20 years for 2004 fire

BUENOS AIRES - More than four and a half years after a deadly fire in a disco in Argentine city of Buenos Aires, a judge Wednesday sentenced the venue’s operator to 20 years in prison.

But family members of the victims expressed outrage that the band performing when the fire broke out had been acquitted.

The catastrophic fire Dec 30, 2004, killed 194 people, most of them young people and injured more than 700 others.

Omar Chaban, who operated the Republica Cromanon disco, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on arson and corruption charges. Other disco employees and officials responsible for overseeing state fire regulations were sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.

But an uproar broke out in the courtroom and in the street outside after the judge cleared musicians from the rock band Callejeros, which set off fireworks during their show causing the blaze.

The flames quickly spread inside the disco, where fire extinguishers were broken and emergency exits were blocked. In 2006, the city’s mayor, Anibal Ibarra, was removed from office in the fallout from the disaster.

The families of the victims were outraged over the acquittal of the musicians and tried to storm the court. “This verdict makes it all worse,” one father said.

The public was also upset that those convicted could remain free until they begin their sentences.

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