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Theater Fire Kills 74 in China

March 29, 2000 GMT

BEIJING (AP) _ A fire broke out early Wednesday in a cinema and quickly spread to an adjacent movie theater, killing 74 people in central China, local officials and state media reported.

The blaze erupted in the Tiantang cinema around 3:30 a.m. and engulfed the Dongfang cinema next door before firefighters extinguished it an hour later, the Xinhua news agency said. Police in Jiaozuo city, Henan province managed to rescue only 12 people _ among them the owner of the Tiantang cinema, who was badly burnt, Xinhua said.

It was unclear why so many people were in the cinemas in the middle of the night, a time when most public facilities in China are closed.

Jiaozuo police and fire dispatchers confirmed the Xinhua account but refused to provide additional details. They said local police, fire chiefs and city politicians were holding a meeting late Wednesday as part of the investigation.

Citing police, Xinhua said a lack of fire safety facilities likely contributed to the scale of the disaster in Jiaozuo, a fast-growing town 360 miles southwest of Beijing. Rapid economic development, a dearth of public safety regulations and lax enforcement have played a role in numerous disasters in China in recent years, from building collapses to mine explosions.