China captures arson suspect in karaoke lounge blaze that killed 18

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - Police in southern China on Tuesday (April 24) captured a man suspected to have started a blaze in a karaoke TV lounge that killed 18 people, shortly after authorities offered a reward for information on his whereabouts.

The fire in the city of Qingyuan in Guangdong province broke out just after midnight in a three-storey building, police said on their official account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, adding that five people were injured.

Police investigating the case as suspected arson said they had captured the man, a 32-year-old surnamed Liu, in a nearby village.

“The suspect in the arson case, Liu Chunlu ... has been successfully captured,” the police wrote on Weibo.

A reward of 200,000 yuan ($31,676) had been offered to anyone who provided information leading to the capture.

Reuters could not immediately reach police in Qingyuan by telephone to seek further comment.

The man had blocked the sole entrance of the KTV lounge with a motorbike before setting it ablaze, state broadcaster CCTV said in a Weibo post on social media.

The suspect had suffered burns to his waist, police added.

China has a patchy safety record on building regulations.

A blaze that killed 38 people at a nursing home in 2015 sparked soul-searching about safety standards in China.

Courts jailed 21 people, including firefighters and government staff, over the fire last year.

In the days following the accident, China’s top safety watchdog said the facility had poorly-designed fire exits, while safety checks, fire and electricity management, and the emergency response system were all found lacking.

More than two dozen people were killed in two fires in Beijing’s migrant neighbourhoods late last year.

The first blaze, which killed 19 people in November, prompted authorities to begin tearing down unsafe buildings in the capital, driving residents out in the middle of winter.