China captures arson suspect in karaoke lounge blaze that killed 18

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Police in southern China on Tuesday 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.

Authorities in Beijing, the capital, launched a 40-day “special operation” targeting fire code and building safety violations after an apartment fire last November killed 19 people, almost all migrants.

In 2013, a fire at a poultry processing plant in the northeastern province of Jilin led to 121 deaths.

Reporting by James Pomfret and Tina Ge in Hong Kong; Editing by Clarence Fernandez