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Qatar mourns victims of shopping mall blaze

Qatar is mourning the 19 victims, including 13 children of a fire at a major shopping mall cum entertainment complex in the capital Doha.

Monday's incident has raised questions about building safety in the Gulf Arab state.

Several memorials are planned to be held in Doha on Tuesday, as authorities continue to investigate the cause of the blaze at the Villaggio mall.

Initial reports said the fire broke out at or near a child care centre, trapping children and their teachers as the staircase leading to the first-floor nursery had collapsed, possibly due to the heat of the fire.

Dense smoke inside the mall combined with the fierce temperature from the flames made reaching the trapped children very difficult, a civil defence representative told a news conference.

"The first report of fire at Villaggio was received by the operations centre at 11:02am (08:02 GMT)," Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, state minister for the interior, said, adding that police and civil defence reached the site within minutes, according to the QNA state news agency.

He said it became clear that 20 children were at the Gympanzee nursery and "all efforts were concentrated on evacuating those kids", adding firefighters had to break through the roof to gain access after a staircase collapsed.

"We tried to get to the children area but the extremely high heat stood in our way," Brigadier Hamad al-Duhaimi of the Qatari civil defence said.

The children were from Spain, Japan, South Africa, China, the Philippines and New Zealand. A Spanish diplomatic source in Madrid said that four of the dead children were Spanish.

Many expatriates live in Qatar, a gas- and oil-rich Gulf Arab state.

Four teachers and two civil defence officials were among the dead, the Qatari ministry said.

Another 17 people were injured, including four children, according to authorities. Most of those hurt were rescuers responding to the blaze.

Memorials planned

Two memorials are planned in Doha on Tuesday, the main one starting at 5:00pm local time at the Aspire sports complex adjacent to Villaggio mall.

Other vigils will be held at The Pearl, a property development in the north of the capital, and on Wednesday at Doha's main church.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze. Qatar's interior ministry confirmed that an investigation was under way.

"There don't seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall," a relative of a two-year-old child who died in the fire said, speaking by phone from Doha's Hamad Hospital.

Unconfirmed reports said that two managers of the mall had been arrested after the blaze.

Yamina Benguigui, the minister in charge of French expatriates, announced in Paris that a French child died, but declined to give any further details.

"It is with great sorrow that I confirm that a French child aged three is among the victims," she said in a statement.

Different nationalities

Community news Tumblr Doha News posted a note from South African Maryam Charles saying that her daughter, Shameega Charles, 29, who was a teacher at the nursery, "perished in the blaze".

It also said that an 18-month-old South African was among the dead, in addition to a Moroccan firefighter.

In Manila, a foreign department spokesman said three Philippine teachers who worked at the nursery died of smoke inhalation.

"Did this nursery meet the conditions to get a licence?" said Al-Watan daily, addressing its question to the ministry of social affairs.

"We await answers over how it was allowed that kids of such age could be at a place not sufficiently equipped."

Saleh al-Kawari, editor-in-chief of Al-Raya daily, said in an editorial: "It is negligence that is resembles a premeditated murder.

"This is a real catastrophe."

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