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Russia mourns victims of deadly fire in Siberia

The blaze engulfed a four-storey shopping centre in the city of Kemerovo on Sunday, killing 64.

Flags flew at half-mast across Russia on Wednesday as the country mourned the victims – many of them children – of a shopping centre fire in Siberia.

The blaze engulfed the four-storey shopping centre in the city of Kemerovo on Sunday while it was packed with parents and children on the first weekend of the school break.

Investigators identified a short circuit as a possible cause and said the emergency exits were locked shut, hampering an evacuation.

Some of the victims, many of them young children, died inside a locked cinema.

Wednesday was declared a day of mourning in Russia, and thousands of people have been bringing flowers and toys to makeshift memorials across the country.

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The investigators have released 21 bodies for burial.

The first funerals for the victims were held Wednesday morning in Kemerovo, a city of half a million people 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) east of Moscow that has been paralysed with grief.

Thousands of angry and distraught residents rallied on Kemerovo’s main square on Tuesday for 10 hours, demanding that local officials conduct a full and transparent probe.

Some locals mistrust the official reports that put the death toll at 64.

Deputy emergency situations minister Vladlen Aksyonov told the RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday that the bodies of all 64 victims have been recovered and that no one is unaccounted for.

Among the first people buried were a grandmother and her two grandchildren – eight and 10 – who died in the locked cinema while watching cartoons. They were all buried in the same grave.

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Relatives and friends of the victims attend a religion mourning ceremony in an Orthodox church, in the Siberian city of Kemerovo (Sergei Gavrilenko/AP)

Elsewhere in Kemerovo, residents were mourning English teacher Tatyana Darsaliya who also died in the fire.

Deputy Principal Irina Borisova told the Tass news agency after the requiem service that Ms Darsaliya was “much loved and pupils loved her classes.”

A court in Kemerovo is expected to rule later on Wednesday on the arrests of one of the mall’s tenants, the mall’s technical director, two employees of a company maintaining the fire alarm system and a security guard who the investigators said turned off the fire alarm.

Speaking in court, security guard Sergei Antyushin said in remarks carried by the Dozhd television station that the mall’s fire alarm did go off and that he called emergency services when it did.

He did confirm, however, that the mall’s public announcement system has not been operational for two weeks.

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