By Natalia Shurmina
PERM, Russia (Reuters) – Flags flew at half mast and entertainment programs were canceled across Russia on Monday as the country mourned 112 victims of a weekend nightclub inferno and dozens more fought for their lives in hospitals.
Mourners heaped red and white flowers in a long line outside the snow-covered entrance to the scene of the disaster at the Lame Horse club in the Urals city of Perm, 1,150 km (720 miles) east of Moscow. Some said corruption had allowed the club to ignore fire safety rules for years.
President Dmitry Medvedev declared Monday a national day of mourning and has called for harsh punishments for those responsible for Friday’s blaze.
Police arrested the owner and two managers at the club on charges of manslaughter and breaches of fire safety.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited some of the 121 people injured in the fire who were airlifted to Moscow for treatment and said: “The main thing now is to save those who were injured. Many of them are in an extremely serious state.”
Doctors said many of the injured had burns over more than 50 percent of their bodies and some were being kept alive by artificial respirators.
Prosecutors say the fire, Russia’s worst in decades, began when sparks from the fireworks ignited wicker coverings on the ceiling of the packed nightclub, provoking a stampede as partygoers rushed toward a single narrow exit.
Most of the victims were in their 20s and 30s. Framed photos of young women illuminated by candles were left in makeshift tributes outside the nightclub in sub-zero temperatures.
“Searches are going on and documents are being seized after the court decided to order the arrest of four suspects yesterday evening,” a spokeswoman for regional prosecutors said.
The number of casualties remained stable overnight and all the dead and injured were now identified, she added.
As part of Medvedev’s call for a day of mourning, all entertainment programs on national television and radio were suspended on Monday.
Visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh canceled an event in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater he was due to attend with Medvedev as a mark of respect for the dead, said the Russian government press service.
In Perm, a further 17 people were buried in a series of funerals on Monday. Mourners were skeptical that those responsible for the blaze would ever be held accountable.
“What wrong did she do? Why did it happen?” said the crying mother of victim Natalia Anikina, aged 40.
The mother, who would not give her name, said that when she learned of the fire, she immediately feared her daughter would not have been able to fight her way out in time. Her 16-year-old granddaughter was now motherless.
More than 15,000 people die each year in fires across Russia and senior officials acknowledge that fire inspections are routinely used as a way to demand bribes from establishments, rather than enforce safety rules.
Medvedev has called for a crusade against corruption but his appeals have so far had little practical effect.
Friday’s fire was Russia’s deadliest in decades, emergency officials said, and the worst nightclub fire worldwide since nearly 200 people died at a party in Buenos Aires in 2004.