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Four immigrant men charged with Sweden disco arson

STOCKHOLM, April 26 (Reuters) - Four young immigrants to Sweden from Iran were charged with arson on Wednesday in connection with a Gothenburg discotheque fire in which 63 youngsters died and 250 were injured, some seriously.

If arson is proved, the fire on October 29, 1998, in the western port city would be the worst such case in modern Swedish history.

Three men aged 19 and one 21-year-old will go on trial on May 3 in an exhibition centre in Gothenburg big enough to accommodate some 500 relatives of the victims and survivors. In line with Swedish court procedure the defendants were not named.

The prosecution filed the charges of gross arson against the four men at the same time as it published its 3,000-page preliminary investigation. The four have denied the charges.

The fire started in the stairwell of a Macedonian cultural centre in the Gothenburg docklands suburb of Hisingen, where around 400 young people aged between 12 and 20 were packed into an area licensed for 150.

The prosecution said the four men, who all arrived in Sweden with their families from Iran in the early 1990s, were in the stairwell before the fire started.

They spilled combustible liquid over stacked chairs, stuffed paper around the chairs and at least one of the four set them alight.

According to earlier official reports, the fire started shortly before midnight and swept through the disco, blocking one of two emergency exits.

Windows were too far off the ground for most of the victims to reach, and those who did reach them had to jump two floors to the ground outside.

In one small room rescuers found the bodies of 20 to 30 people who had been overcome by smoke.

Most of the victims were immigrant teenagers.

Police posted a reward of three million crowns in 1999 for information leading to any arrests.

Those who survived the blaze and the families of dead victims number about 500 and are deemed to be parties to the case, which means they are entitled to compensation and can also question witnesses.

Gothenburg district court, for the first time in Swedish legal history, has organised the trial in a city exhibition hall in order to accommodate the relatives, interpreters, court officials and journalists covering the 16-day trial.

The proceedings will be held in one hall and televised live into a second hall containing relatives and a third hall for the press.


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