First charges filed in CCTV blaze

No date set for 2009 fire cases

BEIJING -- Prosecutors have filed formal charges against 23 people suspected of being responsible for a blaze at a hotel adjacent to China Central Television's new headquarters last winter, a massive fire that resulted in $24 million in damages and a fireman's death.
 
Prosecutors filed their case in the Beijing Number Two Intermediate Court on Monday, state media reported on Tuesday.
 
No date was set for what is expected to be the first of several trials stemming from the incident that caused widespread embarrassment to China's primary statecaster.
 
Among those charged is the former director of CCTV's new headquarters, Xu Wei, for his role in staging the fireworks display, the official China Daily newspaper cited prosecutors as saying.
 
Six other former CCTV employees and six former construction workers involved in the project are also set to face trial, the newspaper said.
 
The number of suspects to be prosecuted is fewer than the 44 the official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier this month.
 
The dramatic fire on Feb. 9, 2009, at the 524-foot tall hotel was just 656 feet from the futuristic CCTV tower that had become famous in the run up to the 2008 Olympics as a symbol of China's rapid modernization.
 
Both buildings were designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and had been due to open this year.
 
The illegal fireworks that sparked the blaze lit the night sky and charred the Mandarin Oriental's nearly finished China flagship property beyond recognition.
 
The fate of the hotel's shell and the CCTV headquarters are the subject of ongoing speculation.
 
CCTV has been accused by authorities of ignoring police warnings about the danger of fireworks common around annual Lunar New Year celebrations.
 
Last month, the State Council, China's cabinet, fined the national network 3 million yuan ($440,000).  Previously, CCTV's former director, Zhao Huayong, was demoted in connection with the incident.
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