May sends Putin letter of condolence over deadly mall fire

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THOUSANDS of angry Russians gathered in the main square of Kemerovo yesterday to confront local officials over the death of 64 people in a shopping mall blaze. Investigators said fire exits were illegally blocked, the public address system not switched on, the fire alarm system broken, and children locked inside cinemas.

None of the signs and automatic mechanisms to put out the fire worked when it broke out, said the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Family members received frantic phone calls from loved ones trapped inside the theater before the victims feinted from the heat and lack of air.

The Prosecutor General's Office said it was monitoring the inspections.

Police hold back protesters in Kemerovo. "People came to rest, children". Five people have been detained, including the technical director of the company that owns the mall, police said. We are suffocating, we are dying.

Protesters, many of them in tears, claimed authorities had been hiding the true death toll and that the number killed was higher.

The lawmaker, Yelena Mizulina, also told Kemerovo residents and all Russians during the program that they can "prove that you're all on one team" and urged them not to "give into provocations" or discuss "rumors and all kinds of nasty things".

The head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, said ticket collectors and other staff fled the scene, leaving movie-goers locked inside.

Russia's lead investigator looking into the fire blames a short-circuited wire as the most likely cause, according to The Moscow Times.

Confusion in recording the names of the dead, which included many who shared surnames, and difficulty identifying bodies may have led to the discrepancy, a spokesman for the activists told The Daily Mail. Tuleyev has avoided meeting with relatives of the disaster and at the meeting on Tuesday he said he wanted to apologize to Putin "personally that such a thing has happened on our territory".

But even before the fire, Russian media reports had suggested that the Kremlin was planning to replace Tuleyev, 73, who has suffered problems with his health over the past year.

The Russian leader also visited victims at a hospital including Ivan Zavarzin, 18, who survived the fire after jumping from the top floor.

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