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Nightclub fire kills 107

The Associated Press. Grieving relatives of victims of a nightclub fire read lists with names of victims at a morgue in Perm on Saturday. Authorities said more than 100 people died and 134 were injured.

The Associated Press. Grieving relatives of victims of a nightclub fire read lists with names of victims at a morgue in Perm on Saturday. Authorities said more than 100 people died and 134 were injured.

PERM, Russia -- President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday demanded that Russia tighten its notoriously lax fire codes after the deadliest blaze since the Soviet era killed at least 107 people celebrating in a nightclub with a decorative twig ceiling and single exit.

About 130 people were injured, dozens critically, when onstage fireworks set the ceiling of the Lame Horse nightclub ablaze soon after midnight, witnesses and officials said. Many victims were trapped in a panicked crush for the exit as they attempted to escape the flames and thick black smoke.

Officials said club managers had ignored repeated demands from authorities to change the interior to comply with fire safety standards. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told Medvedev by videoconference from Perm that the club managers violated the law by running the fireworks display that triggered the fire.

He said the club managers had been fined twice in the past for breaking fire safety regulations, which he did not specify. Russian clubs and restaurants often cover ceilings with plastic insulation and a layer of willow twigs to create a rustic look, one of many uses of combustible materials in buildings by businessmen who bribe officials to look the other way.

The Lame Horse's managers had been scheduled before the fire to report Monday on their progress fixing the flaws.

''They have neither brains, nor conscience,'' Medvedev said. ''They must face the maximum punishment.''

He declared a national day of mourning Monday.

Authorities quickly arrested two registered co-owners of the club, its managing director, and two other suspects. One other suspect was injured in the fire and remains in critical condition.

Medvedev demanded that lawmakers draft changes to toughen the criminal punishment for failing to comply with fire safety standards.

Enforcement of fire safety standards is infamously poor in Russia and there have been several catastrophic blazes at drug-treatment facilities, nursing homes, apartment buildings and nightclubs in recent years. The nation records up to 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per-capita rate in the United States and other Western countries.

Gennady Gudkov, a senior member of the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament, said that toughening criminal punishment won't solve the problem. He told the ITAR-Tass news agency that many fire safety officials are corrupt and often turn a blind eye to violations for money.

Leonid Miroshnichenko, who lost his daughter in the fire, said that he believed the ceiling of twigs and plastic sheeting contributed to the death toll.

''I would like to see the official who allowed this club to open. It was he who killed my daughter,'' he said.

Video recorded by a clubgoer and shown on Russian television showed partygoers dancing before sparks from pyrotechnic fountains on stage ignited the club's ceiling around midnight. Witness Svetlana Kuvshinova told The Associated Press that the blaze swiftly consumed the twigs.