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Brazil disco fire prompts checks across Latin America

Fire safety inspectors across Latin America have begun sweeping checks of nightclubs in reaction to last weekend's blaze that killed 235 people in Brazil. The scrutiny comes one week before crowds turn out for Carnival.

Officials in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico said Thursday they were following Brazil's example by toughening scrutiny of nightclubs as calls mounted for tougher safety enforcement.

The campaign to avoid repeats of early Sunday's fatal blaze at Brazil's southern university town of Santa Maria has also put the spotlight on Brazil's role as host for the World Cup soccer tournament next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Em Tempo, the newspaper in Brazil's Amazon city of Manaus said that inspectors had closed 58 bars, clubs and other facilities. Affected owners staged a protest Thursday outside City Hall to denounce what they called arbitrary closures.

The southeastern city of Americana has issued a blanket order for all nightclubs to shut down while new safety standards were discussed.

The O Globo newspaper said Rio de Janeiro officials were considering closure of dozens of public cultural centers, including municipal theaters, said to lack current licenses.

The mayor of Brazil's third largest city, Salvador, has ordered the inspection of Carnival facilities, which are often made of flammable paper and plastics.

Checks in Mexico

Mexico City's Department of Civil Protection said it planned to visit some 4,000 locations over the next four months to check smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency exits and other requirements.

Venezuela's Interior Minister Nestor Reverol warned on television that the government would take "all preventive measures" to prevent tragedies similar to Brazil's disaster.

In Nicaragua police spokesman Francisco Diaz said the use of fireworks or other incendiary devices inside nightclubs and other enclosed spaces had been banned.

Sunday's blaze in Brazil's Santa Maria began when a band member lit a flare, which ignited soundproofing foam, according to police. Toxic fumes suffocated guests, mostly students. Others were trampled in a stampede toward the sole exit.

Aside from the 235 people killed, more than 100 people remain hospitalized, dozens of them in critical condition.

ipj/slk (AP, Reuters)